Free to be Me

May 10, 2017
Another summer and more school. This summer my mom decided to sign me up for Freedom School. Basically she signed me up for a summer school where I occasionally go on field trips. They should change the name to Torture School. To make it even worse we have a bunch of high schoolers coming in to teach us. They are all probably white and pretty rich and are just doing this so people think that they are good people for college.
Let me start from the beginning. On the first day, I was super mad at my mom for making me come to this stupid place. To make it even worse she’s the lunch lady, so anytime I get in trouble she will know about it. I walked into the cafeteria just like any other normal day. I ran in screaming and looking for my friends, trying to see what food my mom had made for me. When I finally found my class, I took a hard look at my teachers for the summer. Of course they were two brown haired, white girls there. It didn't really bother me, but I knew that I could give them a run for their money. One of the teachers looked older, maybe 20, and the other one looked like my older sister. So she must've been in high school. This was gonna be fun.
I walked up to my teachers and said, “Hey ladies. My name is Marcus and I was wondering… can I have your number?” I was hopin’ that I would immediately be their favorite but it got me in trouble.
My momma came over and smacked me in the head and said, “Boy, if you don't respect them you'll get a whoopin’ when you get home.” I looked up at my teachers and their faces went whiter. I guess they weren't used to seein’ kids get whoopin’s. This was the beginning of the next longest weeks ever. I wondered who was going to learn more: me or my teachers?
One thing that you have to understand about Freedom School is that it ain't no camp. It is kinda like school. In the morning, my teachers Ms. Caroline and Ms. Kate make us start by writing about something that happened the day before or something we want to do in the future. After we write, we had D.E.A.R. time. I HATE D.E.A.R. time. I mean why do I have to read in the summer anyway? It’s stupid. I'd much rather go swimming or play some football. I think Ms. Caroline knew I hated it cause she came over to help me one day.
“What's up? I'm Caroline,” she nervously said. Another white girl scared to help a black boy.
“What up?” I replied, kinda looking past her as if she didn't exist. Just another white person trying to get into my business.
We just sat there. I didn't know what to say and I definitely didn't know what to write about.  I could tell she wanted to say somethin’. “What's your favorite subject at school?” she finally asked.
“Besides lunch?” I'm always bein funny. “I guess PE,” I finally say. Awkwaaard. She was all fidgety.
“Do you like Chik-fil-A?” she asked.
I kinda perked up but then my head went back down. “Never had it,” I quickly replied, “my mom will never take me.” Shoot this girl makin things worse.
“Well if we're going to work together you better be a Panthers fan,” she said as she was kinda getting up to move on.
I couldn't believe that a girl, much less some white girl, would be a Panthers fan. “What you know about the Panthers?” I asked with curiosity.
“Well. My family has season tickets so I go to a lot of games. I think Cams the best player in the NFL and Luke Kuechly is my favorite.”
This girl was cool. Season tickets? I'd never met somebody with season tickets. “YOU'VE been to a Panthers game? What's it like? Did you meet Cam Newton? Will you get me an autograph?” I went on and on and on.
“Maybe,” she said, “but first I need you to write. Writing can be fun. Write about something you like.”
“I can write about football--like me being a star?” I asked.
“You can write about anything you want. It's your story,” she said. I liked her. I put my head down and my pencil on that paper and just started writing. It went somethin like this:
It’s the last play of the last quarter of the Super Bowl and with thirty seconds left in the game. Cam Newton and the rest of the team all huddled around me. They said that all I had to do was run straight to the end zone and wait for the pass.  Cam launched the ball from the 40 yard line straight to me and the crowd went silent.  I jumped up and caught it at least 20 feet in the air. The crowd went wild and chanted my name from the last second of the play….Marcus! Marcus! Marcus!
Writing that story was cool. But the good news is we didn't always have to stay in the classroom. Over the next couple of weeks, some days we took field trips. We went to the Discovery Place museum downtown, and my personal favorite, Ray Splash Planet. Discovery Place was okay but it was a lot of reading and I got tired of reading all the little blurbs on the side. Umm hello? I thought that the whole point of a museum field trip was so I could take a break from reading. But on the other hand, Ray Splash Planet was one of the coolest places I have ever seen in my entire life. It is literally a whole building full of pools and slides and water castles and fountains. I mean what more could you want?!? While we were at Ray Splash Planet, Ms. Kate and Ms. Caroline went swimming with us. Ms. Kate wouldn't play football with us but Ms. Caroline would. She let me and Derek be the captains. As we picked teams Derek kept picking all of the girls, but I mean I wanted to win.
Once the teams were finally picked I had Ms. Caroline on my team for the first half of the game. We lined up at the 50 yard line and I called the play. My friend Derek stared me down from the opposing team. We had fought earlier about who would get which teacher on the team. He really wanted Ms. Caroline because Ms. Kate yelled at him the day before. Play by play the tension grew between us. We knew that we weren't allowed to tackle but it was so tempting. Derek glared at me during the last play. “Set, Hike!” And off we went. He ran as if the wind was pushin’ him along and he got closer. It took everything in me to not knock him flat on his butt. That was the last play. Each team lined up and shook hands and said, “Good game!” We didn't keep score which made me mad but it was so fun.
On the days that we didn't go on cool field trips and we had to learn we did lots of activities. Sometimes Ms. Caroline or Ms. Kate would read us a story and we would have answer questions about what we had just heard. Other days we we would have assignments like writing about what we want to be when we grow up or if we could have any super power in the world what would it be. Even though I tried to act all cool I really liked this. I would call Ms. Caroline or Ms. Kate over and get them to help me. There was one writing exercise we did that I really enjoyed. The question was: If you were able to make one wish, what would it be? It made me think. I weighed all of my options. Would I wish to be a famous football superstar? Would I wish for a million dollars? And then it hit me. I would wish that I could make my momma proud. She is always getting after me saying things like, “Marcus why can't you be smarter?”, or “Marcus would you please just shut up!”  It is hard because all I really want is to make her proud. When I shared this with Ms. Caroline her face got really red; I guess that's what happens to white people when they about to cry. I looked up at her and said, “It’s okay Ms. Caroline. One day I'm going to prove to her that I am so smart and I will make lots of money and buy her a big house and a brand new Mercedes Benz.”
In the beginning, I wasn't quite sure how to feel about Ms. Caroline and Ms. Kate. I figured they just wanted to be able to say they helped the poor kids. In the end, I really knew that they cared about all of us. I was really sad on the last day. Before Freedom School nobody ever really showed any interest in me; most of the time they would just yell at me and tell me I was stupid. Instead of running to my friends for breakfast on the last day I asked to sit with my teachers. As the last day went on I tried to be really good and make my Momma and my teachers proud. I went slow on my assignments just like Ms. Caroline had taught me too.
At the end of the last day I ran up to Ms. Kate and Ms. Caroline and said, “Momma told me she was proud of me for the first time last night and it's all because of you.” They both paused, looked at each other and gave me the biggest hug ever. Freedom School was hard and wasn't always fun but it really changed my life.  One day when I am a professional football player I will remember my teachers, classmates and my Momma. I want them to be proud to know me and proud of me.
I know I didn't always show it but Freedom School really helped me out. For the first time in forever I actually kinda cared about school. It was nice to have people celebrate when I did well on a quiz and help me when I struggled. My teachers listened to my dreams and encouraged them when others didn't. One day, when I am a professional football player, I want to help kids feel smart and maybe one day Momma will be so proud of me she just might explode with tears.

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