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Ta-Nehisi Coates by Catherine Adel West | flash fiction | #thesideshow

Hello! My name is Claire and I’m changing lives today. It’s what I do. Instill hope. Enlighten young, at-risk minds through literature. The children really are our future like Whitney said. #RIPWhitney

The school year is wrapping up. Streets are smothered in canopies of green. I smell fresh Mexican food. I’d love to eat it, but I just asked one of the street vendors about gluten and his mouth arched in a funny way and he replied in Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. #RosettaStone

Is it a microagression to not speak Spanish when you’re asking about gluten-free food options?

I’ll get food at the new coffee shop. Organic beans. Harvested by people paid well for their labor. That’s what it says on the gluten-free, vegan menu. I won’t eat where people aren’t well paid and treated fairly.  #WeAreThe99% #staywoke

I’ve made such a difference in my new community! I can feel it! I see the kids walking through the corridors of my school. My room teeming with young, open hearts. #ClearEyesFullHearts

One heart in particular I’m destined to reach.

Kara is the most promising student I’ve had all year. She’s my diamond in the rough. Her test scores were phenomenal. She’s reading at a college graduate level! Someone has to convince Kara to further her education.

I’m that someone.

Just like Michelle Pfeiffer and Hilary Swank and that one other actor in that movie about the Latino kids who learn calculus. DEFINITELY like him! #StandandDeliver

A mind like Kara’s can’t be wasted. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. That’s what it says on the United Negro College Fund banners in the school hallways. By the way. I never say that N part of the name out loud! Talk about microagressions! Just the thought! #racialsensitivity #safespace

Girls like Kara aren’t left with a lot of options. No fathers in the homes. Incarcerated siblings. Such a hard life. I feel so #blessed. I know how rough minorities have it in this country.

I stand with my black and brown brothers and sisters. People like Kara and my other students need encouragement; told they should reach for their dreams. To be the first in their family to become a college graduate! Kara will thank me for believing in her. Invite me to her college graduation in four years as the woman who inspired her to be everything she could be! #Mentorship

Her family will say, “Thank you Claire. Thank you for seeing past the stereotypes. Past color. You’re such a good person!”

I can barely stand it when I see my prize pupil walk through the front door.

But this is a super private conversation so I make sure we have it at my podium at the front of the class. #confidential

I give her the great news: “Kara, I just got your results back from our testing a few months ago. I’m so excited to say you scored very high on the reading and English portions.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Kara’s tone seems flat, unaffected. Maybe she doesn’t realize what that means.

“Are you stunned at your own potential?”

Someone has to make sure this mind isn’t left crumbling like so many inner city blocks. Someone has to show Kara how important she is. I’m that person.

“I really think you should apply to college, Kara.”

Kara’s face is screwed up the same way as the gluten-pushing Spanish street vendor.

Sometimes, the language of hope is hard to translate. No one famous said that last line. Just me. #Inspirational

“Umm. I did apply to college. I’m going to Howard University.”

But like this isn’t the 1970s anymore where segregation was this big thing. She doesn’t need to go to an all-black school. Her scope is so limited. Her future can be so much more! #IBelieveICanFly

Poor thing.

“But you can do so much better than Howard!”

“Excuse me?”

“I mean you can get into a real school! Like the University of Wisconsin or even UIC.” #nolimits

“Howard University IS a real school! It’s my mom and dad’s alma mater. It’s where they met.”

“That is so heartwarming. I’m so happy they went to college! It’s probably why you’re so articulate and not pregnant. ”

I feel tears in the behind my eyes. The struggles her parents must have endured. Probably like those John Singleton or Spike Lee movies I’ve seen. Well, I haven’t seen all of their movies, just the really famous ones… or the really important parts of the famous ones. #BoyzNdaHood #DoTheRightThing

“I’m going to sit down now,” Kara replies.

“Before you do, can I tell you what a pleasure it is having you in my class? I’m sure your parents are thrilled you’re keeping the dream alive in your family.” #MLKJr

“My older sister and brother already attend Howard so I’m not doing anything that hasn’t been done in my family since my great-grandfather.”

“Wow. This is so inspiring. I’m totally inspired by your family and their journey!” #TheCosbyShow

“Is there anything else?” Kara asks.

“No. I just wanted to give you this great news.”

Before heading to her desk, Kara turns around and says, “You know, there’s a book you should read. It’s my gift.”

“Why thank you!”

I like the title of the book, “The Beautiful Struggle”. The last name is Coates, but the first name is impossible to pronounce. I try several times, but Kara is already in her seat.

Did Kara just roll her eyes? No couldn’t be. Probably blinking away tears because she’ll miss me. I’ll miss her too. #memories

I still have my lukewarm organic coffee and a gluten-free danish waiting.

Yes, I’m here to change lives. Instill hope. I know what no one else does: “These children are worth something.”

Ah, the ringing of the bell!

Who’s ready for some learning? Today we’re reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin!

About the Author:

cathy-westCatherine Adel West is a writer born, raised, and living on the South Side of Chicago. A graduate of the University of Illinois, she fixes punctuation and grammar for big companies to pay the mortgage. Catherine has been published in Black Fox Literary Magazine and is also currently finishing her first novel, which explores the complex friendship between two women and their fathers against the backdrop of the African-American church. To read more on Catherine’s thoughts about writing or other things banging around in her head, please visit her blog, The Scriptor Complex (https://catherineadel.wordpress.com/).