“The old story sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you—words will get you killed.”
-Ameena Matthews (Violence Interrupter)
To my babies,
I am sorry that I have failed you. Day after day I taught you lessons on turning the other cheek; that words can’t hurt you. Unfortunately, I lied. Words have the ability to crush spirits and tear apart families. Words can erase friendships and stomp out pride. The reality is that words hurt, a lot.
I wish I had taught you that words can hurt but words can also heal. I should have shown you the two sides to this double-edged sword that our tongues have the power to unleash. As your very first school teacher I should have been the person to acknowledge that I, too, have been hurt by malicious words and have hurt others. In wanting to protect you, to shield you from the realities of violence that plague our communities, I left large gaps in teaching you about how to cope, how to deal with true emotions that accompany harsh words. Please forgive me.
If I could have a chance to do this over, to reteach lessons that I’ve had time to reflect on; I would share with you how to use words to empower and uplift each other. We could learn together about how to make our communities stronger, had I not silenced your voices and discredited the power of words. I would read you Martin’s Big Words over and over again, until the pages ripped from callous fingers flipping though pages. We would sit on the carpet and share moments of when we’ve been hurt, in an attempt to prepare us for a world that at times, could care less about our bruised feelings.
I wouldn’t teach you to merely turn the other cheek, because I understand the complexities of doing so. I would teach you that it’s ok to feel hurt and upset, but its what we do with those emotions that can be life changing. I never want evils to drive you to make life-changing decisions. Your lives are too precious. You are too precious. Your value is immeasurable.
I would try to help you understand that in your hurting (a valid emotion) there are times when you have to choose your battles and choose them wisely. I read what the media has to say about Black boys and it pains me. I know about the kind, loving spirits that enter my class each year— boys who just want hugs and positive attention from teachers. I know what how it feels to love Black boys with every ounce of energy in my body. I know how three simple words “I love you” can change lives.
Hear my words. You are loved, you are valued and you are appreciated. When others use vicious words to make you believe otherwise, please know that words do hurt, but the hurt doesn’t last always.
Nicole (Ms. McGowan)