Note: This post is the third in a series. Here are parts one and two.

And so the first year of tutoring at Gompers continued on. Every Tuesday and Thursday I would wake up at 5:45 am, go for a quick jog, shower, make my coffee and drive the 30 minutes to Gompers High. There were a couple mornings when the rest of the guys were still awake and wasted as I was heading out the door and by the end of the year, the early mornings took their toll on me.

Every Wednesday night we would have our weekly tutor/mentor meetings. It was meant to be a time to exchange ideas, share experiences, but mostly we just rolled our eyes while the program director laughed at his own jokes, shoulders shaking, and then got upset when he realized we were all sedated with boredom. We were on the clock. We maintained.

There was, however, one part of the job which tortured me. Every Wednesday we had to turn in our Tutor Weekly Report; a two page report of what we did each day, what we learned, how we helped, how we could have done better, blah, blah, blah. The purpose of the bullshit tutor weekly report:

  • Make sure the tutors are doing their job
  • Make sure the teachers are doing their job
  • Charting students’ progress
  • Getting grant money for EAOP

You have no idea how much I struggled with these god damned weekly reports. They wanted us to recount the same bullshit cliches. A weekly, telenovela version of Stand and Deliver. I wouldn’t do that though and I’d literally spend hours each week trying to come up with something that was not bullshit nor depressing even though I’m sure they were never read. Of course, in retrospect, it was worth the time since I can look back on the experience and see how it changed me and how I grew without romaticizing it.

The summer that followed my first year at Gompers was a much needed break. It was the typical madness in Pacific Beach. Block Party, my birthday, 4th of July, and all the drunken haze in between. It was the same summer I met Laura. The same summer someone woke me up underneath a dumpster and told me I should get home and take a shower. It was a good summer.

Come September and more classes, more Gompers. But something strange and unexpected happened. Within a matter of a couple weeks I was accepted and trusted by nearly every single student there.

Partly responsible:

  • I spoke Spanish
  • I played basketball
  • Good taste in hip hop
  • A couple of the girls had crushes on me
  • My girlfriend was Latina Mexican
  • My car looked like it belonged in a junk yard
  • I was that dorky white kid

In fact, I had somewhat of an advantage over the other tutors at Gompers. The students were almost split right down the middle – 50% Black and 50% Latino. And when I say split down the middle, I mean down the middle of the classroom. A few of the seniors would cross the color divide, but it was rare. So the Black students would immediately gravitate towards the Black tutors and the Latino students to the Latino tutors. I was in a unique position to be able to walk in both camps and demand a certain level of respect.

I said that “I was accepted and trusted by nearly every single student there,” but there was one very notable exception. Donnel despised me the moment I first asked him if he needed any help with his homework. I had never talked to him before, but the very first thing he said without ever looking up was “nah man, stop buggin.”

And so I did. As the weeks went on it became pretty obvious that Donnel was one of the most intelligent kids in the class … when he went.

He was also the most popular.

When a student sitting next to him would call me over for help, he’d say, “yo man, what do you think that white boy’s gonna do for you? Look at me nigger, I’m 16 years old with my own company and making mines.”

Donnel cleaned carpets after school and on the weekends. And probably during school too. The only time we actually had a conversation, he explained his business to me. He rented the equipment from his uncle who cleaned carpets for a living. He made the payments on his car (which he reminded me was much nicer than my own) with the money he made (“under the table, dog”) and still had plenty left over to buy Fubu and Addidas. And he was god damned tired nigger of bitch-ass crackers like you coming in here and telling my peoples what they should do with their lives when I’ve already got a nicer ride than you do so why don’t you take your white ass back to the suburbs and use the money they be paying you to fix up this fucking shit hole of a school.

I related to Donnel a lot. I used to also ditch school to work extra hours and save up money.

I nodded my head, got up, and went over to another student who needed my help on a question about scientific notation.

I think most of the other tutors in EAOP would have tried making Donnel their “special project.” You know, “show him the light.” I left him alone. I think he probably taught me more about life than I ever could have taught him with my negative exponents and scientific notation.

We never really talked again and he was the only one not to shake my hand and wish me well on my last day at Gompers. I do, however, think of him from time to time and wonder what he is up to these days. I have a feeling he is doing just fine.

To be continued …

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