One of my students explained to me that he believes that nothing “ain’t gonna’ happen for him.”
That way he tells me, he will never get disappointed.
“Also, Ms.,” he adds, “Then, every good thing will be a big surprise.
I don’t believe I’m gonna get custody of my kids,” he says.
“I don’t believe I will keep my freedom.
I don’t believe I’ll ever get a job and I don’t believe that I’ll stay clean.
It simply ain’t gonna happen.”
I look at him. He has a sweet smile and actually seems very content.
“Here’s the deal,” he explains to me the way my kids explain the settings on my phone to me, slow and steady.
“This is where I’m at. This is who I am. I’m cool. I did my time. I fucked up. I lost my kids. Now, I’m doing everything to change that.
But, Ms., nothing, absolutely nothing is a given.
I am who I am right now. I ain’t gonna get nothing.”
“If I start from nothing,” he continues to explain, “then everything I do or get is a blessing. You feel me?”
I look at him. He looks at me and smiles. I am quiet.
“What?” he asks.
“I’m thinking,” I tell him.
I compose my thoughts.
“Doesn’t it depress you to always think that things aren’t going to happen?”
He says in full sincerity, “Nope. Absolutely not.”
“My job is to be happy with who I am and what I have. I got no expectations.”
“Damn,” I say. “That’s impressive. I don’t know how to do that.” I add.
He laughs, and says “You want too much, Ms.”
“It’s not about wanting,” I tell him.
“It’s about ….” I pause. I laugh.
“Crap…yeah, it’s about wanting!” I admit.
“Here is the deal, Ms.” again speaking slow and steady.
“I was locked up for a long time. Being out, that’s good.
Breathing is good. Don’t get me wrong, thinking I ain’t getting nothing don’t keep me from doing better. Like right now, I am doing everything I got to do to get my kids, but I don’t believe the judge will give ’em to me.
Ain’t gonna happen. So, if he does, it will be a big fucking surprise.”
New age and modern times are very invested in positive thinking.
You will it, it will happen.
This was certainly a refreshing approach.
My middle child applied for a very prestigious fellowship. It is a national service program abroad for teens. Thousands of youth applied for the 22 spots. She said to me, “Ema, I want this more than anything in my entire life. I want this so bad. I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t get it.”
I thought about my homie, and I said to her,
“Just think that you’re not gonna’ get it.” She turned, snarled at me and said,
“What is wrong with you? Why would you say something like that?”
I said, “If you get it, we will be really happy. If you don’t, we now know that this is something you really want, and we’ll figure out where else we can apply and how we can make it happen.”
She looked at me like I fell from the sky.
“Ema,” she said to me. “That’s really not okay. Has no one taught you about positive thinking? How do you do your job? How do you empower youth? You are very un-inspiring.”
I laughed and said, “I actually just learned this from one of my students. He told me to be happy with what you have. Don’t take things for granted. Don’t get wrapped up in things you want to happen. Be content with where you are, who you are. If you can see the sun, smell a flower. You have the privilege of being present.”
She stopped listening mid sentence, put her headphones on, gave me the ‘you are kind of stupid’ look, shrugged and walked away.
You think, it ain’t gonna’ happen, and then it does.
My homie got his kids.
My daughter got the fellowship.
I learned what I have known for a while, that being and doing is what it should be about, not hoping and wanting.
“Ms.,” she said softly.
She was so young and already had been in and out of this lock up faculty more times than you can count.
“I don’t believe in anything good. I’ll never have good. Ever!”
“What if you already have it?” I asked her.
To be honest, I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
This was my first group in the girls’ lock up facility. It was years ago.
She was 15. Her child was taken away from her. She just had three more months added to her time because of a fight she had.
She was angry and sad.
“Ms.” She told me exactly what the homie said to me.
“It ain’t gonna’ happen for me.” Except she did not have his calm, centered demeanor. She was haunted by many demons and I was very new at this.
“Why you going being sad and all serious?” she asked me.
“I’m thinking,” I tell her.
Then I said, “Maybe things will not happen. Maybe they will. We don’t know that or anything for that matter.”
“We know that this is where you are now. Use your time well. Be efficient. Don’t wait for them not to give you back your son. Don’t wait period. Do! Get your GED. Read. Be. And, PLEASE, please stop getting into fights, ‘cause each one of them adds to your time. You be the good. Don’t wait for it. Do you hear me? Be good, period!”
She looked at me and started laughing. She laughed for several long minutes.
“You are one funny lady, Ms. I can’t be something I aint. Ms., I ain’t good.”
“Yes, you are. So, make it happen.”
She started to say “aint …..”
And before she finished, I said, “Actually, this time it is.”
Naomi Ackerman is a Mom, activist, writer, performer, and the founder and Executive Director of The Advot (ripple) Project a registered 501(c)3 that uses theatre and the arts to empower youth at risk to live their best life.
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