Aubrey Barnes: ‘Dear black kids, Some days this body will feel like a jail cell…’

Just yesterday I had a conversation wit students who are a part of my after school program called Young Lions Roar. This particular class is one of my favorites of the week, because the students I work wit are so Wise. Everyweek I work wit ‘em, I am Grateful for the way they let me into their World; discussing their fears, their joyful moments, the things that are going on in their life. Not a lot of adults are given this permission to fully be immersed in a student’s world in this manner, so this is a privilege I am Grateful they extend to me.

On this particular day, the students talked about what they believe a Safe Space in school should look like, and why the certain values they describe are important to them. This certain topic provoked some debate between students due to different perspectives on what a Safe Space looks like; one being presented as “a place where students are able to fully disclose the things going on in their lives without being dismissed or corrected…” The other beingpresented as “a place where students are protected from ideas and conversations that may trigger them in regards to their experience outside of school.” One side felt like if students aren’t allowed to share their real realities due to fear of someone else being triggered, that isn’t a Safe Space.

While the other side felt that if students aren’t protected from conversations that may trigger trauma in others, that it was not considered a Safe Space.

“You be that brave Fish
Who dared to walk outside of water And didn’t die…”

It was evident to me that both perspectives felt as if their present school experience could be a better Servant to the House called “Safe Space.” Some Feel as if they aren’t Heard, some feel as if they are not Protected. From my perspective, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between the lack of importance put on said “Safe Space” and the increase in school fights at this particular school. As someone who was once an Educator in thetraditional sense, I have experienced many fights in the at-risk classrooms I worked. The common trend between most fights, whether peer against peer, or peer against teacher, is that there were either no options given at themoment that would invite them to express their emotions, or that safety and protection was not available at the moment of struggle.

“Burning flames don’t belong under buckets, For they be light for dim matches,
Letting them know they can be brighter.”

I share this experience to hopefully Spark very necessary conversations between community and public (and private) school entities within and outside my area, knowing that statistically, education on a national level is struggling to Serve our students in a way that is productive, vulnerable, and transformative. How can we cultivate aSafe Space that serves both students?

I would say this is a question we should be asking students, they may have solutions we have yet to realize.

Rock Island Illinois native Aubrey Barnes, also known as “Aubs,” is a poet, spoken word artist, author, battle rap artist, emcee, educator, and podcast host of Black Thoughts Podcast. You can learn more about Aubs and support his work by visiting his website.