We Are What We Remember

stories of subversive hope and the power of looking back

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to, something to read, and something to listen to. Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
Seattle School for Boys co-founder and Seattle Story Project author Jerome Hunter wears the coolest watch while siting for a portrait in Pioneer Square. To see more pics of Jerome, click here. Seattle, November 9, 2020, Kristin Leong.

SOMETHING TO LISTEN TO

When Wil Smith was accepted into Bowdoin College at 27-years-old, he didn’t mention that he had an infant daughter that would be joining him on campus too.

In this 2.5 minute StoryCorp conversation, Double Major, we hear Wil tell his daughter Olivia, who is now 16, about her first babysitters (Bowdoin’s basketball team) and being hidden in the supply closet at Staples while her dad cleaned the store. At the end of the piece, Olivia tells her dad that she remembers walking down the aisle with him during graduation—the Dean had called both of their names for the ceremony.

I was a single parent at 27 too. At one point when my son was a baby, I was in M.Ed. classes and student teaching by day, while bartending at night. Like Wil and Olivia, those were the days my son and I went everywhere together. He joined me in diapers for classes, meetings, so many appointments and court dates. It was nuts. And exhausting.

I try to remember to count my blessings now, but I was relentless about it then. I kept a gratitude journal to remind myself to stay the course. Now that journal is a funny record of a very hard time in my life—here’s where the boy tried fresh mango for the first time, here’s where my toddler son asked “What is that stench?” while standing next to a vase full of flowers—but I love it. It’s the thing I would grab (after my kid, wife, and dog) if our house caught on fire. It reminds me that the good stuff is happening all the time, even when it feels like we’ll never make it to the other side.

Hang in there, friends. 2021 is almost here.

SOMETHING TO READ

Face down on his friend’s suburban front lawn with a cop’s knee to his neck, teenager Jerome Hunter wondered about family.

Was he about to end up a prisoner of the “justice” system like his dad? Would paying his bail drown his mom who was already struggling to keep her head above water while raising three Black children on her own? Was his friend Isaiah—also a teenager and also cuffed, kneeled on, and being screamed at next to Jerome on the grass—thinking of his parents too? Lucky for both both boys, it was family that saved them that day.

I never responded to the question, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN THIS HOUSE?” Instead, I implored the officers to go inside as I knew they would find family photos displayed along the staircase. I hoped they’d recognize Isaiah in the photos and let us be. Sure enough, once the officers looked inside, they promptly uncuffed us and left without any explanation or apology - leaving us to unravel the confusion for ourselves knowing that we did nothing wrong.

Reading Jerome’s powerhouse of a Seattle Story Project essay, He was 16 when a cop kneeled on his neck in Spokane. He’s still making sense of it., George Floyd’s voice echos in the background, calling out for his mama.

On this quarantine Thanksgiving, I’m pausing to be thankful for Jerome and the subversive—and perhaps unlikely—hope that he brings to the world. Today, Jerome is the co-founder of the Seattle School For Boys, a refuge of a middle school rooted in social emotional learning and civic engagement. His students are lucky to have him, and we’re lucky to be looking into the not-to-distant future where young people being nurtured and challenged by educators like Jerome will soon be in charge.

SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO

If you’re looking for a bit of context on this Thanksgiving Day in the great year of 2020, might I recommend typing in your address to Native-Land.ca and finding out whose stolen land you’re residing on. This website uses the magic of Google Maps to show users how Indigenous history is both intrinsic to, and erased by, our present ideas about land and property ownership. Happy holidays!

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THANKFUL FOR THIS CREW

That’s it for issue 18, my misfit fam. I’m grateful to all of you and for your support of this little ROCK PAPER RADIO newsletter throughout our pandemic adventure. Hang in there, friends. The holiday season and the third wave are both in full swing now, so let’s keep sticking together. We need us.

See you next Thursday.

K.

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