It's Friday. I'm sitting at the airport, trying to catch my breath.
When I left Boston on Wednesday on my way to a national conference on education, I was that passenger at the airport that everyone hopes not to be -- the one who, as the doors are getting ready to close -- is still four gates away and sprinting down the hallway. The passenger the airline has to page because, truthfully, you were responsible and "checked in" the night before on the website so they expected you to be there.
But, as things happen, on the way to the airport, there was a death on the highway. As the news came over the traffic report, we learned of a pedestrian who may have wandered onto the highway, I felt my anger at the stand still lanes of cars melt away into sadness. Over the horizon, I could see the flashes of blue and red light fight against the purples and yellows of the sunrise. As I got closer, I fought against my own practice of not looking at the accident. But, the sneakers on the road, just feet from my car, forced me to confront the tragedy itself.
I thought of the person's body, strapped to the gurney, sheet drawn over face. Shoeless. How easy it is to forget that a person was there.
The relief of strapping myself into the seat and the pilot's voice welcoming us to the flight soon took over. I caught my breath. I was headed to Baltimore.
For the past few months, I have been preparing for a new type of speech. At this point in my career, I consider myself quite versed in being able to deliver engaging and interesting keynotes. I'm good at free-styling and taking conversations I had that morning and weaving them into my presentations. But, this style -- a pechakucha -- was different. It challenged me to stay focused, to stay present, and to stay concise. For the next 24 hours, all I could do was thinking about, and practice, this presentation.
I arrived at the conference and met up with old friends. The pechakucha came and went. And, once the adrenaline high wore off, I curled up in my bed and fell asleep. Hours later, I met up with some new friends -- mostly folks of color -- for dinner.
The next day, I had an early flight. I packed my things. Walked out to the taxi stand. I made my way to the airport.
The gentleman driving the cab was from Nigeria. He talked about meeting lots of good people from this conference. I told him I was heading home to Boston, and he shared "I love sports fans from Boston. They are so loyal to their team. All the time." He talked about watching the Super Bowl and how happy he was for people in Boston because he knew we were "all fans."
He then said, "It's nice to see people coming to Baltimore. Two years ago, people didn't really want to come here."
I was silent. I couldn't remember what had happened two years ago in Baltimore.
And then I did. I gasped.
Quickly, I felt the wind knocked out of my lungs.
I felt disappointment and shame deep into my stomach.
I felt the blood drain from my face.
He sensed my silence.
"You know. With Freddie Gray."
"Yes." That was all I could reply.
"It was a scary time," he says.
Friends, I had spent almost three days in Baltimore. This past summer, I spent six weeks knee deep in the brilliant work of Anna Deveare Smith as she told the stories of beautiful Black and Brown people who lived -- and died -- as a result of racism. I facilitated dialogue groups about quotes from Freddie Gray's friends.
And, in my time in Baltimore, the longest conversation I had about Freddie Gray was 30 seconds in a cab ride as I watched the city skyline fade away in the distance.
I began to blame shift. In my head, I began to craft the email I was going to send the organizers of the conference: "How could we be educators committed to social justice and not have a Presidential session on our complicitness in a system of racism? How could we go three days, as leaders in education, and not mention the names of Black lives lost too soon? How could we, as transformational schools, not focus our efforts on community engagement, community collaboration, and acknowledgement of our roles in the school-to-prison pipeline?"
I was angry at the organization. I was angry at my fellow educators. I was angry at our field.
And, I reminded myself that the anger I was feeling had to be directed at me, too.
Writing this piece forced me to do this. I'm not sitting in a corner writing at the airport, waiting for my plane to board, as I typically do. I'm sitting facing the long stream of passengers on their way to gates. I'm facing my fellow humans as we move through this world together. It would be too easy for me to find a quiet place, to find the chair furthest from any other people and to hide in my shame.
See, that's just it. When we feel shame or disappointment, our instinct is to hide. Our instinct is to pull away. Our instinct is to hope that no one else noticed.
It's not easy, in this exact moment, to be writing this piece and watching the streams of people -- mostly Black -- walking past me. As an Asian American, I experience justice and injustice differently from people who are Black. It's easy for me, if I choose, to not see that. It's easy for me to not see what that means.
It's easy for me to blame the organization and to not blame myself.
It's easy to forget.
It's easy to forget that we all participate in the erasure of pain, the denial of tragedy, and the blindness of justice.
How easy it is to forget when our own priorities come first.
I'm here in Baltimore, and my flight leaves in a few minutes.
And, I can't help but wonder how easy it will be for me to forget again.