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Authors: Lincoln Cole

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Second Chances

BOOK: Second Chances
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Second Chances
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Novel By

Lincoln Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015
Lincoln Cole

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 0692559744

ISBN-13: 978-0692559741

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“No
culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.”

 

-Mahatma
Gandhi

 

Chapter 1
Lakeisha

 


This is not a race issue.
This is a commitment to education issue.

The room erupted in applause, as though saying the words
made them true. A man whistled in the back, cheering wildly. The blonde woman
stood at the microphone in a yellow sundress, nodding emphatically at the crowd.
Her demeanor was aggressive as she spoke:

“I have
lived
in underprivileged areas. What I am saying today is not about race. And I just
want to say to anyone who wants to cry that it
is
a race issue, I'm
sorry. That's your prejudice, calling me a racist because my skin is white, and
I'm concerned about my children's education and safety.”

Lakeisha felt a
strong mix of emotions, none solid enough to grasp onto. Hatred, anger,
despair, frustration, they all swirled and ebbed inside her. Her skin was
darker than the other people in the room, but that didn’t give them the right
to treat her like a criminal. To treat her daughter, not yet a teenager, like
an animal. She looked down at her innocent child, wondering what was going
through her mind.

Kenni was sitting cross legged on the floor, watching the
blonde mother currently addressing the crowd with a blank expression on her young
face. She had deep black skin like her father but her mother’s nose.  It
was—thankfully—the only trait she had inherited from Lakeisha. All of her good
parts came from James. 

She always reminded Lakeisha of her late husband, a
bittersweet token of what they once had and was no longer. Kenni was eleven,
not really sure what was going on at this town hall meeting, yet she could
still feel the hatred and fear emanating from the audience of white parents.

The hate wasn’t directed at Kenni or Lakeisha. Not precisely.
There was never mention of names or examples, only abstract comparisons. The
fog of hate was simply present in the auditorium, an apparition filling the air
as people vented their frustration and anger. 

The bleachers were packed in the school auditorium at
Northmont middle school, row upon row of well-dressed white parents. The murmur
running through the crowd was that of a cornered animal, ready to strike and protect
its young.  Most of their white children had been left at home with babysitters
while the parents went to do battle.

“I can’t believe this,” Nichole murmured from beside her.
She shuffled a step closer and folded her arms defensively, frowning.  “I can’t
believe they would
say
things like this.” 

Nichole was her elder daughter, having just turned seventeen
and soon to graduate from high school.  Her skin was lighter than Kenni’s, but
she still stood out in the crowd.

“Neither can I,” Lakeisha said.

They stood with a small pocket of black and Latino parents,
certainly no more than twenty, huddled in the back right corner of the
auditorium. Most were stuck standing since seats hadn’t been set up this far
back. They didn’t feel like mingling, so instead were tucked away and out of
sight of the white parents filling the rest of the space.

This group gathered together in quiet desperation, amazed the
white townsfolk were so brazen and outspoken about the recent court order: a
few weeks earlier, an injunction had been put in place that would add diversity
to their school by allowing more students to be bussed in from neighboring
districts.

Lakeisha had brought Kenni along because this represented
her future. She was one of the students who would be starting at Northmont in a
few weeks. After living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood for fifteen years,
Lakeisha had finally won the right for her children to change schools, along
with a selection of other parents in her district.

It had been a long running lawsuit that would send hundreds
of low income children, mostly black, to this highly ranked suburban school. Northmont
School District’s minority numbers were in the single digits, so the judge
thought it would be good for the school as well.

It was too late for Rico or Nichole to benefit from the
lawsuit. Rico had already graduated, and Nichole was in her final year, but
Kenni and Tyler would have a better chance at a good education. They would be
leaving one of the worst performing schools in the state and attending one of
the best.

This was supposed to be a public forum, a chance for all of
the parents to come together and discuss the new integration plan and how best
to enact the new policies.

But that wasn’t what this was. It had devolved into a public
forum of outrage, a chance for parents to shout and receive adulation. How dare
they allow these ‘hoodlums’ into their school? How dare the judge take away
their right to self-segregate? 

There was no quiet conversation; no debate. Person after
person picked up the microphone only to reinforce the prejudices of the crowd. 
This was an echo chamber, rising in volume.

Lakeisha was regretting bringing her youngest daughter along
now. She had expected…well, she
certainly
expected some sort of
response. But this? It was the twenty-first century.  She had never expected
this
kind of hatred to be the topic of conversation.

But, maybe she should have.  Had things really changed that
much in suburban America?

A man walked to the microphone after the blonde woman, big,
burly, and wearing a polo shirt: “
Maybe
we should look at all of this a different way.  The state says we can’t do
anything about it. That the lawsuit is through and their hands are tied. That
we can’t fight it. But maybe if we change the start time for the school
day…move it forward twenty minutes, or an hour. Maybe then fewer children will
want
to come!”

Roaring applause,
as though the man had just delivered a stirring speech during wartime. Not as
though he had just suggested sabotaging the lives of hundreds of innocent children;
not as though he were offering a petty solution to keep disenfranchised
children out of this predominantly white school.

Another woman
stood, willowy in a red dress. She took the stage:

“We are talking
about violent behavior that is coming in with my second grader, my third
grader, and my middle schooler that I'm very worried about. And I want to know—you
have no choice, like me—I want to know when they will install metal detectors. I
want to know where they will be in our schools and who is going to pay for them.”

More cheers. Metal detectors, not books. That was the
concern that received cheers from this crowd.

Another man:


Being from a
nearby town, I've watched the dismantling of an award-winning school. I've
watched it. I went to private school because I had to—not because I wanted to,
but because I had to. So I know the routine.”

And then yet
another person voiced their concern:

“We
need
security. The same security they had in their schools.
 
I deserve to not have to worry about
my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed because
that's
the issue.”

And each time, the crowd of white parents cheered and the
crowd of black and Latino onlookers withdrew a little further. Lakeisha was
heartbroken, but just as determined about her child going to the school as she
was before coming to the meeting. 

More, even. She’d hoped things would be different, but if
she had to claw and fight her way to get her children a better education, she
would.  It was just disheartening that she would have to fight at all. Why were
these people so committed in this battle against fellow Americans?

She thought to take the microphone. To tell her side of the
story, the side that was being ignored in this entire discussion. She wanted to
defend her family, tell these people that
she
also wanted the best for
her children. She wanted to tell them that they weren’t different and they
didn’t deserve to be treated like this.

But she didn’t take the microphone. There were a lot of
people here tonight to speak, but none of them had shown up to listen.

“It’s just…” Nichole started to say.

“…unbelievable?” Lakeisha finished for her.

Nichole nodded. “I don’t get it.”

“They are afraid of change,” Lakeisha said.  “Everyone is.
They just want to give that change a face.”

Nichole was silent for a second.  “You mean our face?”

“Exactly.”

Kenni looked up at her mother, a confused expression on her
young face.  Lakeisha saw the way she scrunched up her nose, the same movement Kenni’s
father always made when he was concerned about something. It solidified the
resolve Lakeisha held in her heart to finish this.  They would do this as a
family, no matter the cost, for him.  It’s what he had wanted.

“Are they talking about us?” Kenni asked.

Lakeisha couldn’t think of a good answer. Of course they
were talking about them, at least abstractly how they believed
them
to
be, but that didn’t feel like the right thing to tell her eleven year old daughter.
How could she explain something like this to her child? Why did she
have
to
explain this?

“I don’t know,” she said instead.

“They don’t even know us,” Kenni replied.

“No,” Lakeisha agreed.  “But they think they do.”

A board member stood up, waving his hands to quiet the crowd.
“We feel the same way, but there is nothing we can do about it.  The courts
have ruled and we don’t like this any more than you do.”

“We will just leave!” one man shouted from the back of the
auditorium.

“They can’t do this to us!”

“I don’t want my children to be at risk!”

“We shouldn’t…”

And on and on it went.

 

***

 

“I don’t want to go to that school!”

“I know you don’t, honey,” Lakeisha said. It had been almost
a two hour drive home from Northmont high school after the town hall meeting,
so she was exhausted.  All she wanted to do was take a hot bath and relax, but
first she had to get her children into bed.

Something Kenni wasn’t interested in right now.

“I won’t go!”

“You have too.”

“But I won’t know anyone there. And all of the children will
be white.  They won’t like me.”

Lakeisha knelt down in front of her daughter.  They were in
their kitchen at home, just returned from the meeting, and it was getting late. 
It was the end of summer, so her children didn’t have school in the morning,
but she still had to work.

“They will love you,” she said, “because you’re my little
sweetheart. My little angel.  How can they
not
love you?”

Kenni frowned.  “But what if they don’t?”

“Then that will be their loss. You just need to be strong,
Kenni.”

“I don’t want to,” she said, eyes falling to the floor.

Lakeisha gently lifted her chin up so she could look her in
the eyes.  “I know you don’t,” she said. “But I need you to be strong.  For me,
and for your father.  Remember how much he wanted you go to a better school?”

“I remember,” Kenni said softly.  A tear slipped down her
cheek.  “I’ll try.”

“That’s all I ask,” Lakeisha said.  “Now go brush your teeth
and get into bed. I’ll be there in a few minutes to tuck you in.”

“Okay,” Kenni said. She disappeared down the hallway, her
tiny feet padding against the hardwood floor.  Lakeisha watched her go, and
then stood up.

A sharp pain flared across his midsection and she cried
out.  She leaned heavily against the counter, fighting a wave of dizziness.

Nichole came running into the kitchen.  “What’s wrong?”

Lakeisha forced a laugh, biting back the pain.  “I bumped
against the counter,” she lied.  “Hit my side pretty hard.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  Do you know where Rico is? He was supposed to be
watching Tyler.”

“He’s at Anita’s house,” Nichole replied.  “Headed over right
after we got home.  He did put Tyler to bed, though.” 

“Such a hurry to go?”

“He’s in love,” Nichole said with a laugh. 

“He didn’t say anything.”

“He called me,” Nichole said.  “A while ago.”

“Oh.”

“You really need a cell phone, Mom,” Nichole said. 

She waved her hand in dismissal.  “Can’t afford it right
now. But I’ll look into it later. I promise.”

“Okay. But I’m telling you, they come in handy.”

“I’ve gotten by this long without one,” she said. “I think
I’ll be alright.”

Nichole headed back into the living room. Lakeisha grabbed a
drink from the fridge and then followed.  Her side was still hurting, but it
was a dull pain now.

“Is Tyler asleep, or watching TV?”

“Asleep,” Nichole said.  “Out like a light. Boy can that
child snore.”

“I know,” Lakeisha said, laughing. “You should have heard
his father. That man sounded like he was sawing logs all night. If Tyler is
anything like him, we’ll need to put sound proofing in his walls so we can get
some sleep.”

“I remember,” Nichole said. “Before the accident the entire
house would shake when Dad went to bed.”

“Yeah,” Lakeisha said.  She turned to her daughter. “You
have that look on your face.”

“What look?”

“The look you get when you want to say something.”

“It’s nothing.”

“What is it?”

Nichole bit her lip.  “Is it really worth it? Sending Kenni,
I mean.  They don’t want her there.”

“They’re just overreacting.”

“But what if…I mean, I’m sure she will be safe, but…”

“That sounds like something
they
would say,” Lakeisha
said. “We can’t stoop to that level. Kenni will be fine, and after a few days
no one will even remember tonight’s meeting.  It just takes time for things to
become normal, and once they do people realize they were freaked out over
nothing.”

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