“As human beings, we all have one foot in light, and one foot in darkness,” Spoon Jackson wrote. I’ve thought a great deal about Spoon’s words this week as I read the details of the civil gang injunction proposed for San Francisco’s Western Addition. A few of the 44 names on that list are familiar to me. WritersCorps, the arts and literacy program I work with, places one of our group of teaching artists at Log Cabin Ranch (the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department’s “post adjudication facility for delinquent male juveniles”) and the names I recognized were those of young men who had done time at the Ranch. One name in particular caught my attention.
During the time Kethan was at the Ranch, WritersCorps had a poetry slam league and he was one of the two top scorers for that season. Which meant that he – along with the other top scorer and many supervising adults – went to the WritersCorps slam finals in DC. I wasn’t there, but I heard that Kethan’s poems, performance and presence were so excellent that a high-ranking official from Howard offered him a full scholarship to the university.
In his young life, Kethan has already touched an intelligent and thoughtful poetry place inside himself and developed it sufficiently that someone attuned to such matters was convinced that Kethan could be a success at Howard. And he’s also touched and developed the qualities and experiences that led authorities to place his name on a gang injunction list. Neither fact negates the other; both are true.
One response: I really (really really) want to live in a world that gives Kethan – and every young person – the support and structures when growing up that would allow them to take advantage of an offer such as a full scholarship to Howard.
Another response. How can my heart, spirit and mind grow big enough to hold the whole: Howard University and a gang injunction list? My friend and colleague, Arlene Goldbard, writes in her Red Room bio about her work at “the intersection of culture, politics, and spirit.” I envision that geography less as an intersection and more as a galaxy, but yes, I’m with you Arlene.
My strongest lessons in paradox occurred during the years I shared poetry at San Quentin. That’s where I met Spoon Jackson. Most of my students had been convicted of murder; most of my students were smart, funny, thoughtful and kind. And when I walked in and out of the prison each day, the path lay between three chapels on one side and Death Row on the other.
Spoon Jackson at New Folsom, photo by Albin Biblom