My friends and I would warn all the new kids. The new kids never saw it coming but we were always honest with them. Too honest, maybe. If we met them over the summer then the question was inevitable.
New Kid: "So, what school do you go to?"
New Kid: "That's where I'll be going."
Us: "You should really ask your parents to move and get re-zoned. Or just go to private school."
New Kid: "Seriously. Why? What's it like at Crossland?"
Us: "Ever seen that movie 'Lean On Me'?"
New Kid: "Shit. Are you serious?"
Usually it was too late for their parents to move and get re-zoned. Some of the time, their father was an enlisted guy and couldn't afford private school. But mostly their parents probably didn't believe us. Until their kid came home with a busted up lip or told his parents the story about how some 9th grader pulled a gun on him.
Guns weren't always the problem at my high school. In one incident, some nutjob student thought it would be a real hoot to run around stabbing people in the neck with his compass from geometry class. Another time, after the film "Malcolm X" was released, a student grabbed me and shouted, "Get your hand outta my pocket, nigga!!" and threw a handful of poppers on the ground. Considering the situation and especially because I remembered this scene from the movie (this is where Malcolm X gets shot to all-holy-get-out and subsequently dies), I reacted in such a manner as anyone else would by screaming at ungodly decibels, running under a car, and checking my body for bulletholes.
Look, I didn't know they were poppers. Sheeesh.
Crossland High School earned its reputation as one of the worst schools in Prince George's County, Maryland. In the four years I attended (no, I didn't drop out - instead I just skipped alot and hung out in McDonald's with my friends or in the woods with that crazy homeless guy), we went through three principals. The first one I only remember as Mr. Robinson. I also remember him being an asshole, but that doesn't explain why I don't remember his first name. He just wasn't all that influential. Which is probably what led to his firing and quick replacement. Principal number two was...tap, tap, tapping my shoe here....tap, tap, tapping my head in the manner of Winnie the Pooh (think, think, think!)...Oh, hell, I can't remember his name either. Obviously he didn't have much of an impact on us either.
But the third. This guy was awesome. He even knew my name. Not because I was constantly getting caught smoking out back or skipping school so often that they took my home phone number off the auto-dial list. It's because he actually walked the halls, got to know us, broke up a few gangfights in his time with us. His whole one year. My senior year. He got me back on track, in a way.
Dr. Arthur Curry had some skeleton-filled closets of his own and wasn't one of those guys that just walked into our school 'cause he needed a job for the final year before his retirement. His own son was in jail, which would prove to be the fate of alot of those thugs I was going to be graduating high school with. Whether they were headed toward a future doing time for drugs, gta, or murder, Dr. Curry knew he'd see a few familiar faces the next time he went to visit his own son.
My 9th grade year, I worried that I'd have to walk across the stage and shake hands with Mr. Robinson. And I would refuse.
My 10th grade year, I worried that I'd have to walk across the stage and shake hands with Principal #2. And I would refuse.
My senior year, I couldn't wait to walk across the stage and shake hands with Dr. Arthur Curry. And I did.
Dr. Curry inspired us a little, encouraged us to take the hits and keep going, to take what life threw at you and turn it into something that could be useful to someone else. Like his own son's story.
I've tried to find updates on Dr. Curry or his son and I've gotten nowhere. But I hope Dr. Curry has found some peace within himself. It can never be measured how many students went on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, or even law enforcement officers instead of common criminals, thugs, murderers, and dealers simply because of his presence at Crossland High School for one year. He saved some lives, undoubtedly. I can only hope that he can save his son.