Louis shifted about in his seat and began to sniffle, drawing the attention of the adults. “It’s just not fair,” he called out plaintively. He looked over at his mother, his eyes welling with tears. “I’ve been trying so hard and it’s like no matter what I do, someone is always going to blame me, like nothing I do is ever good enough and I’m always going to be the kid who can’t do anything right.” And at that he began blubbering wildly, leaning over and pressing his thick-ridged brow against his mother’s shoulder.
“Do you see? Do you see?” Ms. Pembry screeched, her eyes flashing wildly, stroking the hair on his forehead. “Look at what you’ve done to my child! It’s bad enough the doctors damage him with their vaccines, making him autistic, but this is too much! I won’t stand for it, you hear!”
Principal Jackson rose from her seat and stepped out from behind the desk. She walked over to the boy and crouched before his chair, placing her hand on his back and patting him with a maternal reassurance. The two women and the teen remained like that for a long moment until the boy regained his composure. Finally he raised his head from his mother’s shoulder, taking the Kleenex the Principal offered. He sat back in his chair, head down and dabbing his eyes.
“Do you see that Louis?” Principal Jackson asked, looking steadily into the crying child’s face, urging him to look up. She pointed at the dry erase board, drawing the boy’s attention to the quote written across the top.
“It says, ‘There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children’,” she told him, reading aloud, “That means the most important thing all of us can do is protect our kids.”
“Even a kid like me?” Louis sniffed, looking at Principal Jackson hopefully.
“Especially a kid like you,” Principal Jackson reassured him, her voice warm and steady. “The man who said that was Nelson Mandela. Do you know who he is?”
“Is he the president who freed the slaves?” Louis asked.
“No, that was Abraham Lincoln,” Principal Jackson answered, pursing her lips. “Nelson Mandela ended apartheid and freed the people of South Africa, all the people, the poor people, the Black people, even the White people. Do you see the first sentence?“
“The part about weapons?” he asked, his voice rising with interest.
“No, not that,” she replied, frowning again. “It says we can use education as a weapon but that’s just what we call a metaphor. That means that what I’m doing with you, right here right now, is going to change the world. That’s a commitment I’ve made.” She paused, allowing the words to take effect. “You see, I’m what some people call a humanist,” she told the boy with a quiet and boundless pride.
“What’s that?” Louis asked looking at her expectantly.
“That means I believe in people and the potential of people, all people and not just the ones who can read a book quickly or solve a math problem right the first time,” she explained, her voice breathless with an inexhaustible patience. “That’s why I’m going to help you, because I believe in you,” she went on solemnly, “I took a vow to protect children like you to help you grow in your confidence, not tear you down with fear and suspicion.”
“Thank you,” Louis replied with a sniffle, looking at the woman with wonderment.
“Why you don’t have to thank me, Louis,” the woman replied munificently, “Just look at this as an opportunity to grow in your confidence that you are that deeply and abundantly and eternally loved. And, by helping you do that, I can understand that I’m also deeply and abundantly and eternally loved.” She beamed at him, nodding at the logic of her statement.
“Wow,” the boy murmured, regarding the silver haired woman with something akin to awe.