A Day in the Lives of Two Homeless New York City School Children

A Day in the Live a Homeless NYC Student

 

Every day, among New York City’s public school students, more than 114,000 are homeless. A recent New York Times article and photo essay followed two of these children, Darnell (8) and Sandivel (10). Both students and their remarkable families invited a New York Times reporter into their lives. Their school days begin before the sun rises and do not end until well after sundown. Like their moms, Darnell and Sandy show tremendous resilience, making the best with what little they have. Both mothers fled abusive relationships; their strength offers their children strong role-models.

The essay tracks a day in the life at school for each child. School offers a refuge, hope, a place to learn and grow. Like the children and their moms, the schools offer nurturing support with what desperately little they have. It’s a long day, and a long ride back “home.” Tomorrow, they will do it all over again.

A Half Century of Kindness and Acceptance. Looking Back to 1969 with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers

 

Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley

 

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Indeed, as anyone who checks their Facebook feed or watches the news probably knows, there is a lot of negativity out there, both in the media and in the world. Perhaps, that’s why last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a low-budget documentary of a low-budget show by a humble man resounded among so many people. “Love is at the root of everything,” said Fred Rogers. (Sometimes, he conveyed that through art and music.)

One year later, the need for Mister Rogers’s message continues to be as great. Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, comes another beautiful cinematic biography, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversaries of both Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, along with the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. We need to know there is goodness in the world. Nothing saintly. Nothing magical. Simply, be kind to one another, love your neighbor. The movie is beautifully made; the acting and cinematography are all top notch. (I also heartily recommend last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.) The anniversaries may be old, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is truly a movie for our time.

All along, Mister Rogers reached out not only to the children he adored, but also adults, with whom he was – and continues to be – a balm for the adult soul. To children and adults alike, he said, “Sometimes, you have to ask for help. And that’s okay.” To Fred, it was also about reconnecting to one’s childhood. “You were a child once, too.” (One is reminded of Janusz Korczak’s masterpiece, When I Am Little Again. So perhaps, like the Old Doctor, Mister Rogers is – a hero after all.

Although Mister Rogers conveyed his passion for social justice through his everyday acts of kindness, many fans will remember the 1969 episode,when he invited Francois Clemmons for a “dip” in his pool.

 

Also 50 years ago, as a champion for children, Fred Rogers was a champion of public television, the only “channel” he deemed suitable for his program.

 

And 50 years ago, another forward-thinking children’s show debuted: Sesame Street. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this program is not afraid to tackle important topics, still supporting families today. Topics also include autism and drug addiction – and, yes, feelings. Just as the Officer Clemmons episode broke ground in bridging racial segregation, Sesame Street, from the outset spoke to children in the inner city.

 

NYS State Museum - 123 Sesame Street

The Sesame Street set has been recreated at the New York State Museum.

Downtown Bridgetown - Cheerful School

The message of Sesame Street is universal, as this Bridgetown, Barbados, school attests.

 

Today, the reach of the program expands, now including Syrian children.

“Dear places who have seen this before…”

Santa Clarita poem - Jilli Spencer

 

“Can you tell me how… Can you tell me how you got up?” These are the anguished words of Jilli Spencer, a survivor of the November 14 shooting at her Santa Clarita, CA, high school. “It was finally us,” she says. We heard similar expressions combining disbelief with resigned acceptance at other schools? But is this normal?

 

In the 46 months of this year, according a CNN report, there have been 44 school shootings. Of these, 32 have been at schools serving students from kindergarten through grade 12.  Enough. Last year, Time magazine used this powerful word to honor the efforts of five students who survived the Parkland tragedy. They fought – and continue to fight – to prevent other children and parents having to endure their ordeal. Just this August, Time used the word… again.

enough-covers-time-magazine-ed-desk

The two victims – a girl, 15, and a boy, 14 – were not just people of tomorrow, they were people todayPeople magazine told the stories of Gracie and Dominic – and those who love them. Let us always remember the names of Gracie Meuhlberger and Dominic Blackwell.

Outside, it was a beautiful, sunny, and crisp day. Inside the school in which I was working, an dark announcement came over the school public-address system. “The shooter is in the G wing. He’s wearing a clown mask….” It was just a drill. Just a drill? is this now a normal part of the school day, like pledging allegiance to the flag or eating revolting food in the cafeteria? Sandy Hook Promise brought this point home in a searing PSA this September. Caution: Some readers may find the contents disturbing.

 

I love you, Mom.

Trauma to these Middle Eastern children goes well beyond the moment. It is a lifelong scar, at times with devastating consequences.

Victims of ISIS brutality much of the world has forgotten.

 

The New York Times Magazine recently published a searing editorial and photo essay piece on children from Middle Eastern countries (many of them Kurdish and Yazidi) caught in the cross-fire of conflict and “ethnic cleansing.” The article asks, “How Does the Human Soul Survive Atrocity?” Furthermore, “After the horror of ISIS captivity, tens of thousands of Iraqis—many of them children—are caught up in a mental-health crisis unlike any in the world.” Said one young woman about her younger family members, “Maybe I’ll be happier if they are all dead, because at least I’ll know they aren’t being tortured.”

 

Portrayed are the following children:

  • Kristina, 12. Enslaved by ISIS
  • Delivan, 10. Acts out violently
  • Sumaya, 21. Has suicidal thoughts
  • Enas, 17. Contemplates suicide (her 16-year-old sister put herself to fire)
  • Hessen’s four brothers and three brothers have been missing since 2014.

 

One form of treatment is a new cognitive behavioral therapy technique called narrative exposure therapy (NET). This was created during the Balkan wars in the 1990s to help children there cope with trauma from torture and genocide. Yet, trauma still makes it very difficult for children to feel safe and regain trust.

  • Rezan, 11. Kidnapped in 2014 and freed only this year
  • Hediya, 9. Spent five years enslaved by ISIS with her sister Kristina
  • Hundreds of Yazidi children, some as young as 8, have been raped.

 

In Iraq, mental health treatment is almost nonexistent. Yet, about one in five Iraqis suffer from some form of mental illness. Among young Iraqis, the rate for PTSD is more than one in two; 60 percent suffer from depression. Some 92 percent of children show learning disabilities. Many children in Iraq have thought about suicide. The article goes on to chronicle atrocities inflicted by ISIS terrorists in the country.

 

Said Ilyas, who did not know whether her daughters were still alive, “I am sick, and I don’t know what to do.”