He was a man
Sharieff Clayton is more than the name of a victim who was “fatally shot” or “killed” or is “dead” as a result of a shooting in Brooklyn last night*.
He was a man, a colleague, a friend who dedicated the last decade of his life to working with, learning with, laughing with, teaching with, creating with, imagining with, exploring the world with the young men and women whom he met as a member of the staff at an alternative to detention program.
He was a man who loved his family fiercely, who glowed with pride when he talked about his wife and children, sharing stories of their accomplishments and giggling when describing his children’s antics; he beamed even more brightly when they occasionally joined him at his workplace.
He was a man who wrote a book while he was incarcerated, which was published after he returned home and that continues to be read by thousands; it was supposed to be the first of many.
He was a man who had just completed his second book, written in stolen hours of the morning, on the subway, while walking to and from work, much of it thumbed into his phone so he wouldn’t lose the freshness of any thought that occurred to him; he was so proud of what had taken him over six years to write; he was writing as much for his audience as for himself.
He was a man who, every day, kept his promise to the young men and women at the program where he worked to live the words he would share with them: Honor. Honesty. Family. Commitment. Conviction. Education. Self-respect. A legacy of greatness.
He was a man who had very recently decided to focus full time on his writing and to embrace his identity as an author; he began imagining conversations around his new book that would bring together diverse groups of people in a Socratic seminar style.
He was a man who didn’t comprehend the concept of giving up on someone, who brought young people back into the fold of the program where he worked even after they were no longer participants; and they returned, to have a place to be and be seen and belong, if only temporarily.
He was a man who carried his past experiences with gun violence and incarceration with him and shared it openly in service of his greater educational mission to invite people to interrupt what seems unchangeable, to imagine things as they might be, to continually dwell in the possibility of the “not yet.”
He was a man whose words stayed with the young men and women he taught, often making an appearance in their minds at unexpected but crucial moments.
He was a man for whom friendship permeated his ways of working with colleagues and who deeply valued these relationships as vital to him personally and in service of his commitment to be the change, see the change, and nurture those who can change the world.
He was a man who approached the world as a teacher and a learner, for whom every encounter held the potential to educate.
He was a man about whom stories of justice and commitment and caring will be told, should be told.
He was a man whom it was a privilege to have known.
He was a man who should be here today. And tomorrow. And the next day. And…
He was a man.