The Courtyard of Johnston Elementary School at Chase & Ensor

The Courtyard of Johnston Elementary School at Chase & EnsorToday’s ride took me down the hill and to a rare right to pick up tickets for a party later this week, but the place was closed, so I decided that since I was down here already, I might as well ride my bike around a bit more. I headed east on Chase and decided to ride it out as far as it would go, even though at this point I know there’s no way around Edison Highway–I need one of those flying bicycles to get over it. Mount Vernon quickly gave way to the rows of boarded-up vacants that line so much of this city. I pedaled, thinking about how quickly this particular aesthetic, this look of neighborhood, became home, and how much it reminds me of New Orleans, once you get out of the French Quarter or off the four main arteries flowing through Uptown. So many places look like this–abandoned, bearing the scars of persistent inequalities and the open wounds of the present. I stopped near Ensor to snap some pictures, one of them this one, of Johnston Elementary School, and thought about what it might be like to go to school here. To get here is to pass through neighborhoods that are both alive with stoop parties and after school bike rallies and chilled by corner memorials and the telltale boards blocking the doors of abandoned homes. It’s so much contradiction, and I wonder that we expect elementary school children to be able to process it all, to go to school here without a niggling sense that they have already been abandoned. I continued my ride, snaking through neighborhoods by way of alleys and streets I don’t know by heart, and then I was in O’Donnell Square eating frozen yogurt in the company of the surliest teenage service worker I’ve encountered in a long time before snaking my way back home by way of a different set of streets I don’t take often–just the sort of bike ride I needed after the past couple of weeks. When I got home I checked out Johnston Elementary School’s website, and it looks from there like a most lovely place where faculty and staff are dedicated to educating the whole child. That people take on that mission in a world where so much is stacked against certain kids for no reason other than being born here, now, in a system that distributes life chances so unequally–well, thank you, teachers, staff, parents, friends, volunteers, and all the people who help us build and maintain our communities. I hope all those kids have a most excellent year.

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