Updated: Jun 8, 2020
Friday was Fight Day
at my Philly School.
"Rebar in Black and White." By John P. Murphy
A day of rematches, a clearing of accounts. And something to talk about
for the weekend. Twas a show of violence
and a display of fearlessness,
(which comes highly valued
in the inner city). And you didn't have to be big or strong or a boy or a girl. You just had to be fearless. And go nuckin' futs.
At 5th and Indiana
there were no windows
in my classroom above the boiler
at Potter Thomas Middle School.
The first time a student shut off the lights
the sudden complete darkness
unchained a fear inside me
as textbooks and screams and shouts
started flying everywhere.
Shrapnel in pens and notebooks snatched
from a neighbor's desk flew and hit the floor.
I crouched all through the hollering
to get to the lights by the door.
I stood next to the switch after that
but it happened again and again.
I had student helpers
(people also not interested
in the dark violent chaos).
They got to the switch too.
The play fights were the worst for a while.
The kids would say, "We were just playin'."
But a high percentage of play fights would turn real.
At the beginning of class.
In the Middle.
And at the end.
I walked with a veteran teacher on Lunch Duty.
Play fights would break up from a distance when he was around.
He told me he leads with the knee or the elbow
when breaking up fights.
The only time a teacher may lay hands on a student
is when breaking up a fight.
The next morning I stood in the play ground lining up for the day.
"Good morning Malik."
"Get the fuck outta my face you bald headed faggot."
(He was affectionate in his own way.)
"Malik, you're going to hurt my feelings one a these days," I said.
He never did.
The ones who are hardest to love need it the most.
"My Better Angels." by John P. Murphy
During first period that day two kids were wrestling on the floor.
A welterweight was on top of a lightweight.
And I saw my chance to sort this out
and/or lose my teaching license.
I came from the light switch
and said the magic words for future court documents,
"I am breaking up a fight."
By his backpack I grabbed the kid on top
and I got real low myself
to generate as much force as possible.
And I slid that kid across the room
and it felt so good.
Right across the front
at zero altitude.
Unfettered by desks.
It's was as funny as it was sad for me.
Folk laughed. Eyes went wide.
The kid on the ground
(who was getting his ass whopped)
I was on his side and just playin' too.
The kid who slid jumped up
and charged, arms swinging
and then arms behind his back as he got in my face,
"What the fuck man! We was playin'!"
The anger hormones had dissipated in my brain.
The release released.
I shook my head and said,
"I was breaking up a fight."
"But we was fuckin' play fightin'!"
"Well then don't play around me,
cause I can't tell the difference."
The girl with the most personality in the room
bust out laughing and said,
"Yo... Mr. Murph don't play."
Which makes me proud as much as it does sad.
The play fights stopped around me anyways.
Which was a tiny wonderful gain
for my daily mental health,
but not a sustainable endeavor
for long term well being.
Self Portrait: "Long Term Well Being" by John P. Murphy
Friday after lunch
Was a guaranteed fight.
My windowless room
was on the stub end of a 10 yard hallway.
The intersection to the main hall was where the fights started.
And then it would push down into my dead end.
With as many kids as you could fit.
It was a 100% Danger Zone.
"Like fightin in a basement." (Inglorious Bastards,2009.)
We were a middle school
so there were real small kids
(even in eighth grade)
and then there were real big kids.
On this Friday they were the biggest kids in the school.
Both over six two. Both well nourished.
With ham-hock fists
and young man rage.
As I cleared a circle
the kid I had chucked
(we had a good relationship:
he was lovely and charismatic
and likable and funny)
yelled at me:
"Haha...What about now Mr. Murph?
You so tough!
Ain't you gonna break this fight up?"
"No way man," I said
and continued to clear the circle.
The honesty disarmed him.
And we nodded knowingly.
No one was breaking this thing up.
These kids were both athletic and over 200 pounds.
And they were fucking fearless.
The violence within
was coming out
and seeping into all of us.
I sat with the Southern Grandmother
of one of boys later that day.
He was slumped in the desk next to her.
His face all swole up
under dark skin.
Like the bruises didn't even exist.
Primary Source Information relevant to the Social Injustice of Inner City Living.
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