Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
– Tupac Shakur –
For those of you who don’t know me, Tupac is one of my favorite artists of all time. I find him to be not only one of the best lyricists and performers of all time but a simply fascinating human being. Some of his music seems shallow. It talks about the same stuff that much of the rap music of the time talked about; sex, drugs, women, guns, more women, more sex, liqour, punk police, etc. But then there are songs like “Dear Mama,” a ballad to his mother, thanking her for all she did for him and telling her that now he can see how hard life was on her, especially because of him. Songs like “Keep ya Head Up,” and “Changes,” that are honest social commentary of the day. There are deeply passionate songs like “Life Goes On,” to fallen comrades. If you explore the person that was and is Tupac Amaru Shakur, you’ll find that even his “thug life” phrase meant much more to him than what it seemed on the outside.
And then on a whole different level, is his book of poetry, The Rose That Grew from Concrete. The poems in it are deeply introspective and full of raw emotion set to word. As I read through it, each of the poems hits me on an emotional level because when I hear them, I picture my own students. Their upbringings and home lives are so incredibly different from my own. I could not possibly describe myself as a rose that grew from concrete but rather a rose that grew from a well fertilized and up-kept garden.
When I read the poem at the top of the page, I feel two different emotions mostly. First, I feel hope. I hope that, like that rose, my students all prove nature’s laws wrong and learn to walk with no feet and breathe fresh air. I hope that they blossom and escape lives of poverty. I would like to think that what I am doing here is helping give them a chance to do that. However, when I read the poem, I also feel a profound sadness knowing that this will not be the case with all of them. I know that the rose that blossoms from a crack in the concrete is a rarity. Statistics show that the majority of my students are being dealt a loaded hand. The odds are not in their favor.
Now, I’ve been teaching long enough that I’ve had enough success stories to keep me going. Students have come back to me to tell me about some of the things they’re accomplishing. But I’ve also been teaching long enough to see the opposite as well. Last year, I went to two students’ parents’ funeral. It was a homicide/suicide. Stuff like that tears me apart. If I’m being honest, I’m much more of an empath than is healthy. I try to push it aside and keep on, but it sticks with me. I spend hours at night worrying about them (I haven’t seen either one since the funeral) and where they are now or will be in two years. And I think how my first class of fifth grade students are soon to be juniors in high school and wonder how many are still in school and how many dropped out. And then I worry about what their futures hold.
And then I stopped and thought about how to change this. Like how can I make it less of a rarity to see a rose grow from a crack in the concrete? It’s something I’ve thought about a lot ever since I first read the poem and I think I’ve got the answer. The answer is to make more cracks in the concrete. I need to work harder at breaking down environmental barriers that inhibit my students’ growth. Provide more emotional support and a stable environment for them to flourish. Manage my own temperament to provide an example of how to appropriately react in a crisis situation. Try to remain encouraging in their failures even when it’s the hundredth time. Be understanding of underlying circumstances that might be causing behaviors. Be even keeled and fair in discipline. Be more proactive to teach appropriate social interactions. Above all show them love even in the face of disrespect and defiance. I know that sounds cheesy as all get out. However, it’s the only thing that makes sense to me. If roses will grow in cracks in the concrete, and we want roses to grow, crack the concrete. So I’ll end this post with another of Tupac’s poems titled “And 2morrow.” I think that it does a beautiful job of expressing the pain of today along with the hope for tomorrow.
Today is filled with anger
fueled with hidden hate
scared of being outcast
afraid of common fate
Today is built on tragedies
which no one wants 2 face
nightmares 2 humanities
and morally disgraced
Tonight is filled with rage
violence in the air
children bred with ruthlessness
because no one at home cares
Tonight I lay my head down
but the pressure never stops
knawing at my sanity
content when I am dropped
But 2morrow I c change
a chance 2 build a new
Built on spirit intent of Heart
based on truth
and tomorrow I wake with second wind
and strong because of pride
2 know I fought with all my heart 2 keep my