“Did you know he was a poet?” I asked him on our way to the cafeteria.
He didn’t answer me. Instead, he looked up at me, like he was caught off guard or something.
I imagine that I perplexed him well into wonder. He probably wondered how I knew who Tupac Shakur was, how I knew about rap music, maybe even where I came from… he probably paused for a moment to try to figure me out.
He shook his head gently to answer, no. The silent response came probably out of trying to make a connection between me, Tupac, and rap music. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy connection. He was looking up at me while he shook his head. It was the first time he responded, out of maybe three weeks of my daily efforts to connect with him. I took it upon myself to try each day, fully accepting that my efforts would most likely not be reciprocated.
I tried anyway.
Every afternoon, I started with a simple hello, followed by a question or two. I would ask, “How was your day?” Or, “What was your favorite part of today?”
He didn’t know me. I am not his teacher. After school, I have a few minutes to make a connection with the kids I walk out into a bus area. I’m not big on talking to people I don’t know, but around kids, it’s strangely easy for me. Each afternoon, I talked to him while he sat in the hallway, while we walked to the cafeteria, and any other time we crossed paths. No response necessary. And for a few weeks, no response came.
About two weeks ago, he wore a t-shirt with Tupac Shakur’s face printed across the front of it, in a multicolored Andy Warhol design.
“Do you know who he is?” I asked.
He looked down at his shirt and nodded, yes, without speaking. “He was like my age… How do you know him?” I pushed into conversation. "Did you know he was a poet?" I push more. After another silent response, he began to speak. “My dad… My dad bought me the shirt and showed me some songs,” he responded to me with words for the first time. I couldn’t believe he was talking to me, but I kept it together and kept calm. We began to talk. We talked about music, his dad, mom, family, family trips… and much more. I got to know him, finally.
After almost five weeks of trying to connect, he finally shared a little of his life with me. My efforts to connect with this student was fully and completely intentional, but I did not expect him to respond. I only expected to become a small moment of kindness at the end of his day. Nothing else.
Instead, our conversation became a moment of kindness at the end of my day, an honor actually, to have earned a connection with another human.
These days, I am greeted with a hug, a smile, and conversation from this student. Our conversation on Tupac, the poet, continues. Tomorrow, his day will end with something special. I will hand over a book of poetry, and I’m not sure which one of us will end the day better.