Friday, June 25, 2004


There's this guy in my office, I'll call him "Tim". You know in Back to the Future Part 2 when Marty McFly has to go to great lengths to avoid meeting himself as a 45 year old man, lest the space/time continuum be completely shredded and the world explode (or some other pseudo-scientific 80s movie logic)? That would TOTALLY happen if Tim and my friend Erik from high school were in the same room at the same time. Apart from being strikingly similar looking (give or take 20 years): they have the same voice; the same morally defeated, cynical, misanthropic world view; the same stubbornly pessimistic attitudes and opinions about any and all issues; the same arrogance that so obviously indicates overcompensation for some self-perceived inadequacy; the same sometimes subtle and sometimes completely overt tendency toward unwanted sexual advances (on one particularly fateful day, Erik begged me to sleep with him so that he wouldn't turn 15 and still be a virgin while on a fateful day 10 years later his cosmic twin casts lingering glances at varying body parts that become protected by observant and safeguarding friends)'s completely uncanny. Can so little change in 20 years?

On Halloween in 1994, the grounds of Kenwood Academy High School were eerily silent. I hurried toward the building at a quickened pace, worried that my nocturnal tendencies had once again led to a sleep deprived ante meridiem stupor that often caused tardiness and exhaustedly annoyed looks from my first period teacher. It turned out, however, that all students were being herded into the lunchroom for reasons unbenknownst to any of us.

We waited with no information.

Twelve hundred children between the ages of 13 and 18 in a room.

For hours.

Just when the natives began to get restless, we were instructed to form a single file line and enter a separate room, still completely ignorant of what we'd find on the other side. The joy of being free of the cafeteria was totally overshadowed by the threat of what lay ahead. We looked ahead, waiting for information to be passed back from the great beyond, but none came. Metal detectors. Someone took my bag away to be searched at a table while I was escorted to walk through the machine. Metal free, I went to retrieve my belongings and was informed that a nail file, a container of White Out, and a pair of scissors were being confiscated. Bemused, enraged and exhausted, I was herded into the auditorium with the others who had survived the ordeal, where Michael Jackson's History was being played over the loudspeaker. Music soothes even the savage beast.

Erik wasn't at school that day, but a group of us went looking for our fearless leader later that day to explain the situation and relay our outrage. He, too, was furious. He chain smoked incessantly and paced in his black leather jacket as he ranted about the corruption in the Chicago Public Schools, and the assault on our first amendment rights. Immediately, plans were made for a word-of-mouth campaign to stage a walk out that would protest the unfair treatment of students at Kenwood Academy. Anyone who wore black to school 2 days later would be informed of the date and time of the walk out. We were justified. It was illegal search and seizure. We hadn't been present when our belongings had been searched. We had been deprived of our right to an education for this unwarranted, archaic purpose. We'd been treated like cattle, not like human beings. And THEY would PAY.

Somehow the administration caught wind of our plan and began their initiative to avoid bad press. Announcements were made during passing periods for facilitated discussions between the administration and the students. "Talk, Don't Walk," they urged. We scoffed. We, the purveyors of social justice and truth.

The day of the walkout arrived. My heart raced even harder in Geometry, the threat of being called on comparably stressful as being part of what was going to happen. The bell rang to signal the end of third period. I stood up from my chair and walked purposfully to the main entrance, fighting my way through the hoards of students. I reached the front door and looked outside to see no one at all. Nothing. Five students walked out. Erik met us there (having not been in school again that day) and talked to the one newspaper that had shown up to cover the story. We'd worked so hard to spread the word and organize a successful demonstration. And what we'd essentially done was cut class.

It will soon be the ten year anniversary of the Kenwood Academy Walk Out. I haven't seen Erik in many moons, but I imagine him, 10 years older, remaining a soldier for the people - if a somewhat more humble one than in 1994. I wonder if, in 20 more years, like "Tim", he'll read the headlines every day and become angry at what passes as "news" these days. I wonder if he'd still fight for the little people. And I wonder if I'd still walk out that door.

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