Jett Takes on the Man

In this excerpt Jett and her dad have dinner together as she tells him about how she and her friends challenged a guest speaker at her class that came to speak making some surprisingly racist claims about the the Civil War and Revisionist History.  The night before, she and her friends got together and printed out all of their research about the Civil War, the Constitution and segregation so they could refute what they heard the speaker was going to talk about.  Jett tells her dad how it went in class and they have a heart to heart about the importance, and the risks,  of challenging the status quo and standing up to injustice.  It’s an important moment that will affect how Jett views the challenges she will face in the future.

 

They got to the front of the line, picked up their food, and went to a table and sat down. Jett ordered a salad and a cup of yogurt and some fruit on the side. Her dad ordered a pastrami sandwich with Thousand Island dressing and cole slaw.
When they got to the table, he looked at her and asked, “So, how did that thing in school go today?”
“Oh my gosh dad, it was weird. This guy came in. An attorney. Said he knows you. He knew I was your daughter. I don’t think he likes you, or me either by the way, I’ll explain later. Anyway, he did this whole thing on slavery, and the reasons for the Civil War and then segregation that was supposed to make the South look like the good guys and the North the bad guys. It was so racist it made me want to vomit. He had this thing where he was saying that slaves actually had it good. He called slavery ‘alternatively compensated labor’ or something really stupid like that. He tried to make the case that segregation and slavery would somehow work for everyone if it was done right and done fairly. It was awful. He made no sense, yet I know lots of people really believe what he says. He knew we had a rebuttal because he saw our powerpoint that we handed out before class, so he was ready. Said we could go ahead and state our case so he can tell us how we’re wrong.
Then, it was awesome. We started presenting our research and talked about all the stuff we talked about last night when we were working on it. We matched him point for point, refuting everything with documented research. He was speechless. Then he got frustrated and started insulting us. That’s when he said he knew you from court. He said that I was just like you because, as he said, I ‘don’t know when to keep my mouth shut,’”
“I see that as a compliment,” her dad said.
“I know!! That’s exactly what I said, that my dad would take that as a compliment. Anyway, he then tried to convince us that black people are inferior intellectually and superior in terms of athletics and entertainment, so that’s what black people should do. He said Asians were good at math so they should be engineers and such but white men are smarter so they should be leaders and white women, like all women, he said, are really just good nurturers. It was so racist and misogynistic. We had a discussion about that and he said diversity doesn’t work and it was bad for me because I don’t really belong anywhere because I’m biracial. He tried to use bullying in school to make his point, saying that there was never a bullying problem before I came along and the bullying is just a symptom of what is wrong with diversity. Then the WHOLE CLASS turned against him and started talking about how there’s always been bullying and it’s just a small group of guys that bully literally everyone else, not just me. I said it’s because they are racist jerks, not because of any societal thing. Then the whole class took my side and talked about how I belong with them because I’m their friend and we hang out together. Melinda, who had been with me making points all along even googled a book he cited and found the statistical shortcomings of the book and refuted his use of that book as proof of what he was saying. Then he just got mad and started griping at all of us, especially me. He said it was all my fault that everyone has these ‘liberal’ ideas now. That’s when our teacher stepped in and told him that we’ve been nothing respectful to him while he has very rude to us and told him to leave the classroom. So he said that he was going to meet with the Superintendent about this. Then he left. It was crazy.”
“Okay. Well, we have a meeting with the Superintendent at 3:00pm Monday. You, me, that guy, Mr Hitchens, and Melinda and her parents, along with that Greg kid that was over and his parents too.”
Jett looked defeated all of a sudden, “oh,” she simply said, “ I guess we’re in trouble now?”
“Don’t worry about it kid. You did good. I’m proud of you. Every act of civil disobedience, no matter how well intentioned and how dignified in its execution, has a consequence. Blowback, it’s called. We’ll manage it. Ashley already spoke to Melinda’s mom. She understands, and she feels you kids did the right thing too. We can invite Diana, if necessary. She’s chomping at the bit to get involved. Especially since she has generally destroyed that attorney in court many times. That’s why he hates me. He has tried to break me down on the stand more than once and it just backfires on him each time. Now you broke him down in the classroom. I guess he just feels our family is out to get him or something.”
“It would help if he wasn’t such a racist,” Jett said.
“Yea. It would. But people are what they are. He probably doesn’t think he is a racist. He longs for a status quo that’s been disappearing for decades. Now his generation is trying one last time to make a huge, coordinated push to bring it back; and they are having some success because they’ve focused on the areas where they’ll get the least resistance. Creating that school district/zone, having this guy going to those classes. But then he runs into you, the daughter of someone he sees as a nemesis, and you unite at least one class and they call him out, publicly. He’s not mad at you. He’s mad at what you represent. You represent a future that he fears. A future in which he doesn’t get to dictate what people say and think; a future in which people know he’s wrong. And he knows he’s wrong, but wrong is all he’s ever known how to be, so he can’t change.
“Jett, you’re gonna find that people fear two things: Change and not fitting in. You are change. And they fear you because you won’t conform to fit in. And you shouldn’t. You should be yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. Because that’s way people will accept change. Your friends see it. It’s always the kids that see it first, because they have fresh eyes, that aren’t clouded by the stupidity of bigotry and fear. They’re changing. Even Principle Preston is changing. Your teachers have always seen it. But a lot of people will cling to a status quo even if they don’t like it. And they will conform to something they don’t like if it seems like everyone else is doing it. These guys are using that to change the world back to a status quo they were comfortable with; where they had the privilege and all the advantages, and everyone just quietly accepted it. You are what’s standing in the way of that. Sure, you’re just a kid. A girl in school. But you represent something greater. You’re proof that the bad guys are wrong, and they always have been. You force them to confront that. Just by being yourself. I didn’t plan for that. I’d rather you not have to deal with that, but I’m not going to let you deny it or succumb to it either. You are in the situation you are in and I’m proud of how you’re handling it.”
Jett smiled and a tear ran down her cheek and then put her head down. She picked at her salad and looked up at her dad again. “Thanks dad. But how do I do it?”
“Just keep being yourself. That’s all you have to do. It’s all you’ve ever had to do. You’re smart, you’re strong and you have a good heart. That’s what’s always guided you. Just listen to yourself. And if you get stuck and don’t know what to do, we’re always here for you. Me, Ashley, Diana. We want to make the world a better place too. We’ve seen how bad it can be, but with you, we see how good it can be too. In that way you’ve kind of rescued us from being jaded and cynical about everything.”
Jett teared up again. “I didn’t think I was that important. I’m just a girl,” she said.

“You’re more important to us than you’ll ever truly understand. We’re family and you’re the kid. Everything I do, I think about you and your future and what it means. Ashley too.”
“Ok. You’re being all sentimental. Ashley said you used to be a tough guy. What happened?”
“You kid. You happened,” he said, smiling at his daughter, “and Monday we’re going to walk in there with our heads up and we’re going to stand our ground. We’re going to be polite and respectful but we’re going to be clear that we don’t get pushed around by some two-bit retired attorney who passed his prime decades ago and is now reduced to peddling half rate bogus propaganda to a bunch of high school kids. Ok?”

“OK. Thanks dad. I’m worried about this meeting though.”
“I understand. But try not to worry. We’ll get through it together. We always do.”

Jett: The Art Gallery

Another excerpt from the story of Jett.  This one is more sentimental and I actually wrote it for Father’s Day. )

The exhibit was crowded when they walked in. Ashley had helped Jett pick out an appropriate outfit. She was wearing gray slacks and a black blouse with flat dress shoes. Her dad was wearing a pair of black slacks, with a red dress shirt and a matching black blazer. It didn’t take long for Ashley to find them. She had arrived shortly before they did. She was wearing a black skirt, white blouse and black jacket.

“Hey Little Chica,” she said and gave Jett a hug, “I got finished early and came straight out.” To Jett’s dad she said, “I can see why you chose this exhibit. Good call.”
Jett, her dad and Ashley walked around the exhibit and looked at some of the pieces. The theme of the exhibit was “Strong Black Women: Mothers, Leaders and Warriors.” The artist was a young African American artist and each piece depicted black women in various stages of life and in various situations. Some were simply portraits that portrayed strength of character and beauty. Jett’s eyes widened as she took them all in. She said nothing until she saw the one of a woman with a young girl on a busy sidewalk.

“That one reminds me of me and Mama, back in Baltimore. When we were homeless.” Ashley worried that it may trigger some difficult feelings in the girl and shot her dad a look. He waved her off and asked Jett, “Your mom took good care of you, didn’t she?”
“Yea, Mama did. It was hard though. She cried a lot.”
“She was a strong black woman, your mom.”
Jett nodded and looked at a few other paintings. Ashley took the girls hand and said, “Do you want something to drink? A soda or something? Or a snack? I’m about to get a glass of wine. Would you join me?”

“Okay,” Jett said, and went with Ashley to the refreshment room. Her dad, meanwhile, went looking for one particular painting he had seen in a picture advertising this exhibit. He hoped he wasn’t too late. By the time he found it, he also ran into the director of the gallery, who was an old friend of his.

“Whoa! Who is this guy?” he said excitedly, “It’s been years brother. Where’ve you been?”
“Hey!” Jett’s dad said, “Good to see you. I’ve been running the business, working late nights, solving cases and all; and raising a daughter.”
“You have a daughter?? No way! Didn’t see that coming,” he said.
“That’s her over there.”
“With the attractive Latina women?  That your girlfriend by the way?”
“Nah. Business partner and friend. And she’s good with my daughter.”
“That’s your daughter with her? You did good.”
“I got lucky to have a good kid. She does well. Speaking of, I need to talk to you about this painting. Who is the artist?”

With this he and his friend went off to an office and talked quietly a moment. The artist joined them and they talked momentarily as well. While they were talking, one of the volunteers placed a red sticker under the painting they were talking about, indicating that someone bought the painting.

When Jett and Ashley returned, Jett handed her dad a cup of coffee and they resumed looking at the paintings. The director of the gallery approached them and introduced himself.
“I hear you’re the daughter of this crazy guy here. It’s nice to meet you, Jett. I’m the director here. And you Ms Garcia.”
Jett and Ashley shook hands with the gray haired man. “You know my dad?” Jett said.
“Oh do I. We go way back. We used to run around downtown together in the same crowd when we were young. Your dad was quite the guitar player, you know. He used to sit right back there in that corner with his guitar, his amp and all of his gadgets and play some amazing guitar pieces during exhibits like this one. He was the man.”
“Cool,” Jett said, “he still plays. He taught me some guitar.”
“Well, he’s the guy to learn from. Haven’t seen him around in forever. Good to see him and really great to meet you Jett.”

As they walked Jett’s eyes widened and she walked quickly across the room to a particular painting. It was the same painting her dad was looking for earlier.
“What do you think of that painting Jett?” her dad asked. Jett just stared at it. In the painting, a young girl, about Jett’s age, was holding a book in her hand. Around her were several books surrounding her, some open, some closed, and musical instruments, a microscope, and other items indicating the arts, science, literature, etc. The girl was looking to the upper left though, day dreaming. In the upper left was an older woman dressed as an Amazon warrior. She looked confident and strong, her eyes were bright and she had a fierce look on her face. She stared off into the horizon as well.

“It’s awesome. I want to be her so bad.” Jett said.
Her dad’s friend, the director, touched his arm and said, “I’ll be right back,” and smiled as he walked off.
The painting was called “The Fierce Warrior.” Ashley put her arm around Jett’s shoulders and said, “She’s beautiful like you.”
“More like you. You’re a fierce warrior,” Jett said.
“I wish Little Chica. But thank you,” Ashley said.

“Jett,” her dad said, “I brought you here today because I wanted you to see these paintings of strong black women. It’s because you are growing into an amazing young lady and one day you are going to grow up and be a strong black woman yourself. I want you to see this so you can know how amazing you are, not just through my eyes, but through your own as well. You’ve had to deal with so much adversity that I thought this would inspire you. When I saw this painting, I saw you. You’re the girl in this picture and you are going to grow into the woman in the picture. You’re going to be a Fierce Warrior one day. You’re going to be a strong, beautiful and intelligent woman just like the women in these paintings. You’re going to accomplish so much that you don’t know yet. It seems the world has so many ways to push people down that I want you to always be reminded of who you really are and who you are going to grow into.”

Jett’s lip quivered as her dad spoke and she started crying. She reached over and hugged her dad as he spoke. When he finished she said, “hormones,” and laughed through the tears. “Thanks dad. I love you,” She said next.

Allen and the Single Mom

“ Hey. . .I thought I would call and ask a qu. . yea I know you’re busy but its about your kids. . . No.. . they’re fine. . really, they’re fine. . Well, the little one had an allergic reaction last night and we had to go to the ER. . .no, I’m not asking you to pay. . . I haven’t even gotten the bill. . . would you listen. . . I can’t call tonight. . We have dance at 6:00pm, then one of the boys has a ga. . I’m not ASKING you to come to the damn game. . .I know you’re busy. . . ok. . ok. . . I covered that. . . It was hard but I made it happen. . . I always make it happen you know that. Btw. . nice motorcycle. . . when did you get that? The credit union? Wow. . I’m surprised they gave you a loan. . .No I’m not being a bi.. . But you ARE behind on child support. Yes Allen. . I know you work hard. We all do. . So do. . . I know. . .I know. . I know. . Ok. . I’m very busy can I get to why I called? Anyway, I have a question. . . Whe. . Yes Allen, your son plays football. I told you this. He plays free safety. . He was third string last year but he worked out hard all summer with the weights and the running. His favorite team is the Cowboys and Byron Jones is his hero. Not just because of football but because he was also an academic all American. Your son makes straight A’s Allen. He’s smart and determined. You’re surprised? Why are you surprised. .You should be proud, not surprised. . .I’m telling you this because you DON’T KNOW YOUR KIDS! Your daughter wants to be a dancer. She’s clumsy but she tries so hard. You should come see her perform. I’m not PRESSURING you Allen, I’m just telling you. You should also come to your son’s game. It would mean so much to him if you were there for once. . yes . .yes. .ok. .I’m sorry for the for once but you should co. . .I know you’re busy. New wife, step kids, promotion. . I get it Allen. Yes. . you’ve moved on and we are all so fucking proud of how you’ve moved on.. .Maybe I should do the same? Are you fucking kidding me? I’m raising our kids Allen. While you were out partying and getting laid I was going to Little League and Dance and helping them with homework and talking to teachers. .and NO. .you will not interrupt me again Allen. I’ve been crying with them and encouraging them. I’ve been punishing them when they deserve it and rewarding them when they achieve. I’m the one who worries all night about whether or not I’m a good enough parent. I’m the one who tries to teach them to have values. I’m the one at every game cheering them on while trying not to take over. I’m the one letting them make their own mistakes and feeling the heartbreak every time I can’t just fix everything. I’m the one who is shaping the lives and minds and hearts and souls of these little people that we created while you are getting on with your life. THIS IS MY LIFE ALLEN!!! This is what I do. Sure, you show up about once every two months, you know. . when you have time, and go do something fun. They get all excited to see you. They are happy for any scrap of attention you can give them while I’m over here doing the work. But that’s ok. . I’ll give you a break on the visitation. . I’ll even give you a break on the child support (even though you bought a fucking motorcycle). . . Just come to freaking game for once and give your son some encouragement, watch your daughter dance in the recital. . . and let me tell you about them so you will know what they are talking about when you see them. Now. . I have a question.
Can I ask my fucking question now?
What’s your mom’s phone number? They want to see their grandmother this weekend. They are really great kids.. .
Ok. .thanks. . sorry for the rant.
Oh. .and Allen. . .Pay your fucking child support.