Written by Bianca Shiu, a teaching fellow in Oakland   |   In the aftermath of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers.

Dear E,

I haven’t seen you in over a year, but your smile’s been on my mind lately. You were always smiling. Well - that’s not true. You were always smiling unless you were yelling or crying. Sometimes you did all three in the same class period. You live on the extremes of emotion and crash from one to another, leaving me running to catch up (once, literally). Have you gotten better at staying calm yet? Do you practice taking deep breaths? I hope so.

I’m thinking back to one of the conversations we had. It was just after we lost Tamir Rice. Do you remember? That day was just like any other. You were being your normal self – and by your normal self, I mean you were blatantly ignoring directions and putting on a huge show of being aggressive. You looked like you could be 15, but we all know you’re just a kid in a teen’s body. You were only in the 6th grade. Same age as Tamir.

I remember exploding at you. I remember asking you what you thought would happen if you were acting this way when a police officer approached you.

Your reply was so naive that it made me seriously question our school discipline policy. I think restorative justice gets a lot of things right, but in some ways, it’s flawed.

“Will he take me to the reflection room?”

No, E.

He won’t take you to a room where you’ll have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with an adult who cares about you so that you can tell your side of the story.

He won’t ask you which core value you broke and how you can make it right.

He won’t give you any chances like that, especially if you don't listen to simple directions, and especially if you pretend to charge at him. I know that you’re harmless when you do this because I know you, but he doesn’t. He won’t know that you’re joking. He won’t know that you don’t understand normal social cues yet. He won’t give you a chance to explain.

He’ll see a big, black male.

You could be the next one on the news.

I hate that we had to have this conversation. I want you to dream up a world that’s better than what it is today. But until we get there, I have to prepare you. You have to know.

Because how can you change the world if you can’t survive it?