Bill left the classroom slowly after his students departed. He glanced at the bulletin board and saw the press release for the Unity Rally. Alfonso immediately entered his head.
He walked through the wood-paneled office area when Reverend Johnson appeared at the top of the stairs.
“William, have you finished for the evening?” he called down.
“Do you have a few minutes? I want to ask you something.”
Bill went up the stairs and followed the Reverend’s guiding hand into his office. The Reverend went behind his large desk and sat in his leather chair.
“Have a seat, William. How’s your game these days?”
“Not bad. Victor and I played a one-on-one the other day.”
The Reverend nodded. “William, I was talking to Reginald and he told me that you two were reading Baldwin still.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“He told me that you were reading ‘Giovanni’s Room’ to him.”
“Yes. We’ve been reading it together.”
The Reverend did a half smile and blinked his eyes slowly.
“William, are you aware of the subject matter of that book?”
“Yes,” he said, unfazed. “I did a book report on it for my English class.”
“And that’s fine, for your English class at college. But William! We can’t teach that sort of material here in the church, in the program.”
Only then, as the pause seeped in, did Bill realize where the man of the cloth was coming from. For some reason, he just never thought about it that way, especially since Smooth wasn’t tripping on it at all.
“Baldwin left us a considerable legacy,” Reverend Johnson continued, “more than enough to pick and choose from for your lessons with your students. I can think of a least half a dozen other works that you can use.”
It had been a classic moment with Smooth. Bored with the history review they were doing, he shoved his hand into Bill’s backpack and took out the book. With the power of teenage entitlement, he declared the history review null and void and insisted that they read ‘Giovanni.’
“Well, you know, Smooth read ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ and so when he saw that I was reading ‘Giovanni’s Room’ he asked about it, and I just, you know, he wanted to see some of it, so we read the first few pages. And he got interested.”
“And that’s wonderful that you got him interested in the literature, William, but I’m concerned about how others might perceive us, and this program, if they discover that we’re using works like ‘Giovanni’s Room’ as educational material for our students. What sort of message does that send out? We have a dual mission here, which I know you recall from your orientation. One is to educate, of course. But we also have to mold tomorrow’s leaders. The students here are successors to you, as a freshman in a fine college, and eventually successors to me and to Councilman Berry and all the other fine Black leaders of our community. That’s what this program is about, William. We need strong Black men. Or the community dies. Your mere presence here is an example to the kids you tutor. You are educated, poised, and thoughtful. You are giving back to the community that has nurtured you, generally speaking, William. I know you did not grow up around here, but generally speaking. You bring a lot of fine qualities to the program. You are by far one of our most dedicated tutors. Reginald and Suzanne and Todd have all mentioned how you put in a lot of extra hours for him during crunch times. It’s all very much appreciated.”
“Thank you, Reverend.”
“So think again about the materials you use with your students. Make sure that they thoroughly reflect the values of the program, OK? I have a copy of ‘Notes of a Native Son’ around here somewhere. I’ll find it and lend it to you, so you can use that in your lessons.”
“So, Sunday’s the big day. Are you ready to do your presentation on our tutoring program?”
“Yes, Reverend. I want to go over it with Alfonso one more time.” He wanted to give props to Alfonso whenever he could. The Posse was tight like that.
“Excellent, William, excellent. This is an important event. And we have to stand behind Councilman Berry. I knew you were the right person to speak on behalf of the tutorial program. I’m glad you and Alfonso are developing such a good friendship.”
The Reverend stood all wide grins and smiles as he went to the door to lead Bill out of his office.
“Oh and William, one more thing. I know he likes to be called Smooth, but use Reginald’s real name when addressing him here, alright? We don’t want them to grow up with any false images about themselves, right?”
“Thank you for your time tonight, William. Have a good evening.”
Mrs. Parker sat on the stoop as usual, despite the darkness from the shortening days and the associated chill in the air. She greeted Bill with a smile.
“You just coming back from Reverend Johnson’s?” she asked.
“Yeah, I had Smooth today.”
“Oh, how’s he doing?”
“He’s doing real good,” Bill said, sitting down. “Real good. But I guess I can’t call him Smooth no more.”
“The Reverend doesn’t want me to. He said it might give him a false impression of himself, or something like that.”
Mrs. Parker rolled her eyes.
“He’s such an elitist! Watch what’ll happen if you started calling him Reggie, or worse Reginald. He’ll go off on you, he won’t listen to what you’re trying to teach him, and then you’ve lost your student.”
“Yeah, right? I called him Reginald at our first meeting, and he was all ‘It’s Smooth, alright?’ I’m like, fine, whatever you want.”
“You do what you have to do, Bill. Johnson don’t need to know nothing. Just watch yourself around him, and keep it real with your students.”
“Mrs. Parker, has Reverend Johnson been there a long time? I mean, he seems like such an institution in the community, I figure he has been at that church for a while.”
“Well yes, I suppose it has been a while. Probably 15 years, at least. Or more like 20. Now, I can remember when Reverend Hooper used to run that church. He was more in tuned with the common folk. Johnson was his protégé. I went to that church back when Reverend Hooper ran it. Sometimes he’d let Johnson do the Sunday service. He tried real hard to sound like his boss, but I could tell he was just doing it for show. It wasn’t the real him, in other words.” Bill nodded. “And when Reverend Hooper retired and Johnson took over the real him came out very quickly. He’s in cahoots with the moneyed part of the community, Bill. He ain’t folk.”
Bill sat and processed for a moment, then stood up.
“Thanks, Mrs. Parker. You take it easy.”
“Alright, now, Bill. You have a good evening.”
Bill went upstairs and smelled that food had been prepared. The dining room looked used. Hip-hop didn’t boom from Derek’s room, so he must have chowed down then split. Bill tossed his backpack into his room, and returned to the kitchen to nuke something for himself. He opened the freezer to sort through the selection. His mother entered the kitchen to get a soda. She pecked him on the cheek.
“How was the day, Mom?”
“It was a day. I have to do a presentation tomorrow, so I left early to prepare for it.”
“That’s why Derek’s out of the house,” Bill smirked.
“Yes!” she said, rubbing his head. “I know you’ll be quiet, but I can’t count on that from your brother.”
“And Ricardo ain’t coming, then, either?”
“Right again, Sherlock.” She opened her soda and slurped a gulp. “And how was your day?”
“That sounded pretty non-committal. Anything you’re not telling me?”
“Naw, it ain’t nothing. You know that program happening this Sunday? Did I tell you that Reverend Johnson asked me to give a presentation on the tutorial program?”
“No, you did not! Congratulations! See? You haven’t been there two months and already you’re running the thing!” She gave him a hug.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that.”
“Well it sounds good enough for me. This will be great, Bill, it really will. I hope they know how lucky they are up there at that church to have you.”
She kissed him on the cheek again and went back to her room where her PowerPoint slides awaited.
“Momma?” he called out.
She stopped in the kitchen door way. He hesitated for a moment, but didn’t want to waste her time.
“Do you think there’s anything wrong with ‘Giovanni’s Room’?”
“No,” she said, taking another sip of soda. “Didn’t you just do a report on it for English?”
“Yeah. It’s that, see, one of my students got interested in it and wanted to read it. He kinda insisted we read it.”
“Sounds like a perfect match to me, honey, since you just finished it yourself. Gives you an opportunity to look at it again, maybe from a different angle. And your student can benefit from your having just read it.” She turned to continue towards her room. “Sounds like a win-win plan to me,” she said before walking back into her bedroom.
Bill smiled. That was just the assurance he needed to hear and the person he needed to hear it from. He took a lasagna dinner out the freeze and popped it in the microwave, then leaned against the counter and waited for it to cook.
© 2011, gar. All rights reserved.