29 September 2015
“To die, to sleep –
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub,
For in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” -Shakespeare
Bryan was one of my favorite students. He was a sophomore when we met, and like me, he was new to the Opportunity Program, a program designed to serve and meet the needs of “at risk” youth, a term which, for all intents and purposes, can be applied to every single elementary, middle, and high school kid in East Salinas, because to be a kid in East Salinas means to be at risk: at risk of being shot and killed.
Bryan was shot and killed yesterday in front of his mom’s house. He was seventeen.
I know this hurts his mom. I had spoken with her on several occasions concerning Bryan’s academic standing. I had spoken with his step-dad, too. Bryan’s mom cared a great deal for her son, but Bryan, when I first met him, was infected with all the rebelliousness that comes with being a teenager.
Because of the design of the Opportunity Program, I spent a significant amount of time with Bryan. He enjoyed coming to class, where, along with my other ten or eleven or twelve kids, depending on how many students decided to show, we’d spend more than four-hours a day together, in one room.
I often had long talks with Bryan. He was mature for his age, and he had been in regular school before coming to the program, something that could not be said about my other students. Bryan had gotten a taste of real high school life. My other students had not, and because they hadn’t, they were mostly lost causes, as far as school was concerned. Not Bryan, though. He had a future of some kind. I could tell.
In class or during the time we spent walking around the stadium’s track, Bryan and I talked about his schooling, his family, his drug and alcohol use, his sex life, and his political views. Yes, we spoke politics. He was especially interested in immigration policy. I knew more about what was going on in Bryan’s life than did his parents, something that is true with a lot of students and their teachers. Sometimes a teacher is the only adult a kid feels comfortable opening up to.
At one point during our school year, a man wielding a pair of gardening scissors in public was shot and killed by Salinas Police outside of a market on a busy street. Bryan, moved by what he perceived as police injustice, grabbed a bullhorn and led a march and rally at the corner of where the man had been killed. Bryan believed in what he was doing. He felt a connection to the dead man; he saw the wrongness in his death, and he wanted to spark change. I didn’t know that Bryan had done this until a picture of him holding a bullhorn and thrusting an angry fist in the air ran in the local Salinas newspaper. I was moved when I saw the picture, and I told him how proud I was that he had gotten involved with something about which he had felt strongly.
Bryan was shot multiple times, his bloody body lay motionless on the apartment complex’s driveway, a few feet from the apartment he shared with his mom. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Bryan had once again made headlines in the same newspaper. I heard of the news this morning. Naturally, I found it hard to believe. I was told during class, and I wanted to cry, but all my current Opportunity Program students were watching me, and so I felt the need to hideaway my emotions. I don’t know why I didn’t cry in front of them. I could have, easily.
Unfortunately, Bryan is not the first of my students to be shot and killed. There have been many others, more than I can count, and they were all at risk, simply because they lived in Salinas.
Bryan’s death hurts, though. I saw him evolve and transform into a young man with direction, no matter how directionless his direction may have seemed. He had transitioned back into regular school from my program, but ultimately ended up at another alternative education program in Salinas, from what I heard. It had been about six months since I last saw him. I wish he would’ve visited more often, just like he used to.
Now that he’s dead, the only thing I can think of are all the laughs we shared. I can still hear his snickering and his wild howls and his simultaneous laugh and handclap combo. We capped on each other in Spanish and English and we talked about our favorite Mexican foods and cars and girls. We shared many lunches together, and we barbecued as a class. I trusted him with errands, and he never let me down.
I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t know about Bryan. There’s a lot I don’t know about a lot of people. The media will call his murder “gang related,” but Bryan wasn’t a gang banger. He was smarter than to allow himself to be used by a gang. Bryan was a regular kid trying to navigate his life to get himself to a nicer place.
You know, though, enough is enough. This depraved behavior has to come to an end. In the name of simple sanity, the murdering has to stop. People of all ages and from all walks of life are dying violently and senselessly in Salinas. One would imagine that the good people of any city under a siege of violence, as Salinas is and has been, would band together to rid their city of the murderous and violent element(s), but this doesn’t happen in Salinas. It’s citizens are scared–simply put. Salinas’ citizens can reclaim their city. It can be done, but it takes courage. Bryan had courage—a lot of it—but Salinas will no longer get a chance to see it.
Rest in Peace, Bryan.