He was in 3rd grade and was “failing” using every measure employed by the bureaucracy. Reduced to data points, no one bothered to look him square in his humanity. Their destructive incompetence remained sanctioned, documented and institutionalized. And that’s the way it is done these days.

He was forever running out of class, refusing to participate in his sham of a classroom. The assigned “teacher” should have been fired ages ago. Her professional record on file at district headquarters documented omission after commission after irresponsibility. So instead of placing her in remediation, she was awarded a hefty stipend and assigned to an urban academy where teachers in good standing were supposed to be demonstrating how to effectively instruct in a high poverty school. What a joke!

The room she inhabited was in shambles by design. No effort was made to create an extraordinarily beautiful and attractive place. After all, the wild ones were raised in slums and bore the destructive impulses of a slum and destroyed everything they touched, or so the narrative was constructed and widely reported.

Anyone in a right frame of mind would flee this place every hour on the hour. And so he did. I found him wandering the hallway clutching Elizabeth Catlett’s illustrated Lift Every Voice And Sing. He was carrying Elizabeth because he had copied her. His picture book was crammed full of drawings he had faithfully reproduced of every linotype Elizabeth had rendered in her collection of images.

He knew his time would be better spent working on an apprenticeship under Elizabeth Catlett’s watchful eye than attending to the fool on the hill who was presiding over his education. Naturally, he was “failing” every subject because he was disengaged with all of it. The big bosses pulled the plug on him and he responded by refusing to ingest the systemic poison or breathe the tainted air. Hence the regular escapes to the nooks and crannies of the 2nd floor corridor. As far as I was concerned, his drawings were his hall pass, a portfolio brimming with interest, concentration and competence. “He can’t read,” everyone insisted at Child Study. But James Weldon Johnson disagreed and so did Elizabeth Catlett.

Of course, this is what a READER looks like. He falls in love with a story, a poem, a song, an illustrator and he spends every free moment committing the whole adventure to memory, replicating the rhythm, the cadence, the eloquence and the artistry. Never mind that he can’t unlock every vowel and consonant combination. He is hooked on a book for the transformation it can provide. What more needs to be said? The university types, promoting their own cash cow literacy research upon the backs of impoverished children, stayed in business and in the money by declaring him illiterate. The nerve of these people! He ignored them, dismissed them and dissed them. His sword and shield was a picture book held tightly over his heart chakra for protection. A bookworm if I ever met one.