Slice of Life for Late April: Lost my Favorite Student, Violence in Black America

Friday afternoon by accident, I found out from former students on Facebook that my favorite student had died upon moving back to Los Angeles from  Dallas. My initial reaction was a scream, followed by typing a tribute to him. Saturday, I called a favorite teaching colleague to see if she had heard about Kemmel’s “Bandit’s” death. Much to my surprise, he had been murdered in a double homicide. I returned to the that Facebook post and realized in my shock, I’d misread the cause of death as motorcycle accident because the colloquial term “rider” was used.

Bandit was a “B” student in my first year of teaching Developmental English for five years at Texas College, an HBCU in North Tyler.  His attendance was very good, all too uncommon at TC–unlike Mountain View Community College, the Hispanic Serving Institution in North Oak Cliff where I’d been an adjunct instructor for five years. I gave two grades on essays, one for grammar and another for writing. I read most essays twice; an obvious A/A essay is a quick read. First, I plowed through the essay looking for grammar and spelling mistakes. Once I got to the end, I’d start over and look for skill or its lack in the structure of writing. Kemmel’s frequent B’s were the result of C+/A- on grammar/writing respectively. One of his earliest essays was about repairing cars. One particularly rewarding car fixing was marred with a hail of bullets from a rival gang member. Now that’s a shocker in the conclusion paragraph! Since one of my essay rules was not to discuss committing crimes, but being a crime victim is okay to discuss, Kemmel got his usual B. Please don’t stop following me on Word Press!!

As time went on, he took me to hear speeches in Dallas from a popular, yet controversial Black leader. Once I talked him out of mourning the death of an old gang buddy via shooting some rivals. That teaching colleague had the same conversation with him. Kemmel moved to Tyler to get away from “intra-Crip” violence and attend the college where his aunt had a staff position. His small faction was targeted for extinction by a rival, larger Crip group. Yet wearing red that semester to teach became a no-no, for he was a proud ex-Crip who still couldn’t stand Bloods. I was prudent enough never to dispute the illogic of that stance.

Kemmel graduated with a bachelors in Sociology, and he invited me to his graduation party, a truly touching moment for me as the only Texas College instructor or White person there (O.K. 7/8 White). We saw each other a few more times before he moved to Dallas. I’ll never understand why we drifted apart. Suffice it to say that I developed problems with “frienemies” that became quite distracting. He didn’t become a social media addict like me. I moved to MidTown Tyler (east-central/hospital district) almost three years ago. It’s better than the frozen South, where Mom lived near rich, Catholic haters, and the hot North where I integrated the neighborhood. Now I’m in a temperate business area. So now you have the background that leads to the sad ending. I’ve vowed to catch up with long-lost friends and at last, stay away from the “frienemies.”

I wasn’t sure if this would be a good essay to share on Slice of Life, but either MSNBC or CNN is covering the riots in Baltimore following the spine-snapping of Freddie Gray by the police. It’s said to see the anguish of Michael Steele and Elijah Cummings among others amidst the failure of Baltimore over the years. The debate on immigration reform (a largely Hispanic issue) seems ironic when Canada instead looks so inviting as it did during the time of the Underground Railroad during slavery; they’re still sparsely populated, immigration-friendly, and above all: non-violent.

2 thoughts on “Slice of Life for Late April: Lost my Favorite Student, Violence in Black America

  1. “Write long and hard about what hurts.” – Ernest Hemmingway
    Who can sort the loss of gang violence? Who can voice the grinding agony of Baltimore poverty?
    I’m glad you knew this student and let him write from his life.

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