A Moment with Kobe
Throughout the session, I noticed Kobe’s subtle aversion to the group. I watched him closely, paying close attention to what he and did not respond to. As an educator, I’ve learned to have a bifocal gaze over my kids—measuring the temperature of the group as a whole while centering my attention to the kids who need it most. I discerned that Kobe wanted to be seen and hoped to provoke one’s gaze by posturing himself as unseen. Perhaps, he was used to adults allowing him to fall through the cracks, so seclusion was his preferred method of protest. Instinctively, I didn’t interpret his aversion as a response to my programming. On the contrary, Black and Brown boys like Kobe deserve to be trusted. Kids are barometers; they are keen at measuring the health of institutions that serve them, tactful in discerning the intentions with which adults approach them. You have to have a certain orientation towards your kids in order to read between their lines. The sounding of their alarm may be inaudible, even off-putting unless you consciously resolve to operate with love and trust.
I did not want Kobe to take our space and our time for granted. For that particular session, I had planned to teach them the importance of collaboration. To that end, I created a scavenger hunt and had the kids split up into teams. The scavenger hunt went better than I ever imagined. As I scoped around the room, each kid was highly engaged in the activity. Most importantly, they were working together. Except for Kobe. I noticed Kobe sitting off to the side by himself, in close proximity to his team yet completely disengaged. I inched next to him and said to him: “You think that your contribution to your team doesn’t matter, but it does. They need you. Here, I’m going to give you a hint that’s going to help y’all crack the puzzle, but I need you to go back to your team and give them that piece of information because you now hold the missing piece that they need. Can I trust you with that?” Donning a half smile, Kobe averted my gaze as I gave him the hint. It was awkward and I was unsure whether he’d wish I’d left him alone. Nonetheless, I didn’t want the moment to pass by without taking an opportunity to sow a seed. After a few moments, I broke the silence and said, “okay, I trust you.” With that, I walked away and tended to another kid.
I didn’t really know Kobe. I was visiting The Gathering Harlem Brotherhood Mentorship Collective for the first time. Even though I had been one of the primary sources of program development and curriculum building, I operated behind the scenes. The Gathering Harlem Brotherhood began as the brainchild of one of the young men from my church in Central Harlem. He articulated a vision for a mentorship program for boys of color and in partnership with Young Life Harlem, which has been organizing mentorship programs throughout Harlem for the past 5 years, brought that vision into fruition.
At this moment in my career as an educator, I have been able to educate in a variety of spaces and institutions. Yet, by far, this one is my favorite. The Mentorship Collective is anchored by a simple factor I seldom see in the educational landscape: we measure our success by how well the kids are dignified. They are our barometer. So the men lead with love and intentional vulnerability. I support them by creating lessons driven by meticulous attention to the kids’ moment-to-moment experience with them. Each time I develop a lesson plan I consider: What are the moments I can create that will leave an imprint in their hearts and their memory? What do they want to learn? What are their favorite things?
Oftentimes in educational spaces, we mold kids to reach goals and measure their aptitude using metrics they did not create for themselves.
Nonetheless, I am honored to be a part of something that empowers Black and Brown kids to realize a vision for their lives that they themselves created. They desire to be successful and champions of their communities on their own volition. We have to trust our kids––especially our Black and Brown kids––with their dreams. When we do, they learn. They are dignified. They come back and invite their friends. They flourish in a space where they can be, be both Black and be kids.
A few moments after I spoke with Kobe, I peered over my shoulder to check on him. He was bent over next to his teammate Antoine, helping his teammates decipher the clue. It worked. I didn’t have to wrangle a consequence over Kobe’s head. I didn’t have to shame him for opting out. Kids instinctively want to make their village proud. They want to step up. They want to be a part of the solution. We just have to trust them and give them space to do so. In that small, awkward interaction with Kobe, I was able to affirm that fact that he was needed in the space. He was wanted. It made all the difference.