In the car on the way to school a song came up on the radio-all three of my girls belted it out:
Hall of fame / Yeah, you can be the greatest / You can be the best / You can be the King Kong banging on your chest / You can beat the world / You can beat the war / You can talk to God go banging on his door / You can throw your hands up / You can beat the clock (yeah) / You can move a mountain / You can break rocks / You can be a master / Don’t wait for luck / Dedicate yourself and you gon’ find yourself
Standing in the hall of fame (yeah) / And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah) / ‘Cause you burn with the brightest flame (yeah) / And the world’s gonna know your name (yeah) / And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame
My oldest said I should bring this to my girls in jail, this is a good song for them. I say, “This is a good song for everyone.”
In juvie they are not particularly moved by the song. They say it’s not really their kind of music. “It’s very not our style of music.” Mind you the songs they like, their style of music that I have downloaded onto my phone, could put me in jail.
We talk about the words. I ask, “What are they saying in this song? What does it mean?” They surprise me with great answers:
“You must go step by step.”
“You must have faith.”
“Fuck that,” another says, “you gotta believe in yourself. Have dedication. Walk in the right direction. Take baby steps.”
I wonder, do they understand? Or are they telling me the words that have been said to them again and again, thrown at them by a system that thinks that clichés can or will create change.
I tell them that we’ll listen to the song again and that I’d like them to sing. They are ready to kill me. “Okay, OKAY,” I say, “you don’t have to sing.” My inner educator says, why are you asking them to sing when they TOLD YOU that they don’t like the song? I turn the music on, and they give me their – “I’m in a gang I don’t need this shit look.” But as the song goes on, slowly I notice one by one they are singing. In the beginning, in that classical whatever teenager way, and then, this is me, I am into this way. I turn the music down a little and they are saying the words:
You can go the distance / You can run the mile / You can walk straight through hell with a smile / You can be the hero / You can get the gold / Breaking all the records they thought never could be broke.
I cautiously smile, because teenagers are teenagers, and if they see you are pleased with something they are doing they will inevitably stop. I am happy they sang. I can feel the understanding. My inner educator knows when to stop and be quiet.
One girl looks at me and asks, “Is this why you call us by our first name?” In the facility, they are always called by their last name; in my program I insist on the first.
“Partially,” I answer.
“I can be this, Ms., I can.”
“I know you can,” I answer
“Do you think people will know my name?”
“They already do.”
“Cause I tell them.”
She hugs me, because there are no more words.
My inner educator and I are content.