“Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.”
Invisible Child: Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life
Dasani’s mother, Chanel, was similarly named after a symbol of a better world. Piercing throughout, this is a well-written piece over at the NYTimes. At turns a disheartening depiction of the state of affairs for New York’s homeless, Dasani’s resilient attitude is inspiring. A lengthy piece, but worth reading in full.
Reading about Dasani’s family, and the solace Dasani finds at the McKinney, surrounded by role models and figures truly concerned with her progress, I am reminded of the recent words of a former headmaster of mine, William Powell.
Schools need to be safe places. Students and teachers need to feel physically and psychologically safe. Learning is greatly inhibited when fear pervades the schoolhouse. Learning is also greatly inhibited when children and young adults do not feel a sense of belonging.
I wrote the Anarchist Cookbook in 1969. Now I see its premise as flawed
I’m in turn reminded of Dzohakar Tsarnaev’s journey. Prompted by Rolling Stone’s controversial cover image, I broached a similar notion earlier this year:
Let me underline the point that I don’t in any way condone the use of violence. But, do pause to wonder why an individual or groups of individuals feel their words devoid of the power and respect that a gun might proffer. What creates that kind of environment?
Rolling Stone’s Piece on Dzhokhar Tsaernaev: A (Familiar) Narrative Of Vulnerability and Hopelessness
I do not intend to draw a direct causal relationship between homelessness in New York City, and the violent actions of Dzhokar Tsaernaev; many things — only a fraction of which society can be ultimately held responsible for— fed into his and his brother’s decision to violently disrupt Boston’s Marathon. I am also not here to justify or condone such unjust, indescriminate means for achieving whatever ends the Tsarnaev brothers had in mind. Nor, finally, do I want to ignore that the solutions to these problems are not invariably fraught with more questions as they are answers. On that, one might say it is the hard work of idealism, both in speech and practice: in setting out the bar, one identifies the goal even as the journey there is, at best, subject to the “havoc” that is fortune/chance; at worst, rather hazy.
From Dasani and her brothers and sisters, to the two homeless children in Pennsylvania booted from school because of a suspect reading of law , to refugee children in Syria born into statelessness, to valiant children like Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, children the world over are entering and existing in the world at the margins of society. This is about better understanding — of needing to conscience — that fractional portion, however you large or small you may see it, of society’s responsibility for its children.
It helps to focus on the word margin. I think of the hundreds of times I have put pen to paper. What happens in the margins is by definition on the periphery: thoughts jotted down in the margins are not the intended focus; I fondly remember using the margins for nonsensical doodling.
Yet let us now imagine the innumerable children of the world in those same margins. In Syria alone, UNICEF reports that of the estimated 865,000 refugee children, 70 percent of them are not enrolled in school. That’s enough children to fill the Madison Square Garden (capacity 18,200) 33 times over, with children left over. Who among us would really agree that young minds, at times naive but also, in their curiosity about the world, representing the best about humanity’s potential, deserve relegation to the margins of our conscience? To say the singular individual hasn’t the time is in my view much too facile an answer. It betrays the reality of our much-enjoyed collective existence.
Our sweetest existence is relative and collective and our true self is not entirely within us
—John Jacques Rousseau, Dialogues
Within the bounds of our vision, I submit that while we cannot each shoulder the burden entirely, at a minimum we should not shy away from examining the periphery, and following the necessary introspection, act on that knowledge within our most immediate spheres of influence. We may need to strain with significant effort to see through the haze—but we should not be deterred merely because it is hard. We are — if not surely perceive ourselves as — too much masters of our fates; actors with agency and principles, to shrink away from these responsibilities. In the words of Dr. King, we should think think of the children who are emerging into this world not because it is the easy footing of life, but “because my [/our] conscience leaves me [/us] no other choice.”
And although the realization of this purpose may always remain but a pious wish, yet we do certainly not deceive ourselves in adopting the maxim of action that will guide us in working incessantly for it; for it is a duty to do this. To suppose that the moral law within us is itself deceptive, would be sufficient to excite the horrible wish rather to be deprived of all reason than to live under such deception, and even to see oneself, according to such principles, degraded like the lower animals to the level of the mechanical play of nature.
—Immanuel Kant, “The Science of the Right”
P.S.: View more of Ruth Fremson’s photos for the Times’ story here.