August going into September is always something special in higher ed.
There is no calm before the storm. There’s just the electric excitement before a school year begins in earnest, with move-ins and first impressions. Clean slates all round. As college life begins, high school, or whatever came before, is officially over.
Here comes that fresh start to a brand new day.
I confess to feeling the joy of it all as I drop off my daughter to her new home—a smallish room she’ll share with two others in her college dorm.
But it’s hard too for me not to think of Michael Brown.
Take your pick. There’s the Facebook photo with his headphones planted firmly, listening to the soundtrack of his dreams. Or maybe he was just trying to shut out the world that he knew so that he could be transported through the bass line to a better place.
That’s the image we see on the news.
Or maybe you prefer the other image that pops up of Brown when you google him. The one where he dons a green cap and gown, and a red sash around his neck. The graduate.
That’s the one I prefer. The 18-year-old becoming.
Not the 18-year-old done.
That’s the one that will stick forever. The TV image of Brown, face down on the street, while an officer watches guard over his lifeless body. And all of it framed by the yellow police tape that hardly keeps us from crossing over to see the truth.
On the day he was shot and killed, Aug. 9, Brown was just a few days away from his first class.
Now he’s the most famous freshman Vatterott College never had.
Vatterott, a private, for-profit vocational school in Missouri, where you can be anything you want to be, specializes in the trades like HVAC. HVAC? That’s no vacation, learning how to keep things cool in the hot and humid summers of Ferguson.
If only people had stayed cool on Aug. 9, Michael Brown would have been on his way to just about anything he could have dreamed of.
But his shortened life had no time for the everyday nature of the typical freshman coming-of-age-ritual.
Brown, as he is put to rest, has become the catalyst that begins anew yet another necessary conversation about race in America.
It’s the one where maybe we finally can speak frankly on the race questions of the day. Why all the inequities in this so-called “post-racial” world? Where are the opportunities in education and careers? Why are Black men in America treated so differently under the law? Why are Black men six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males?
The urgency of that discussion was already there.
For that, we really didn’t need the death of Michael Brown.
Not when he had better things to do—like transform his life in college.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok