Thursday, November 19, 2015

Because there are no reasons

My first memory of Del Paso Heights, driving to the elementary school
to meet the secretaries and get my class list.
Overshadowed by the Western world's very bad day last Friday, was a very bad day for Sacramento.

Overshadowed, but not eclipsed.

Just hours after the massacre in Paris, a kid in Sacramento named Jaulon "JJ" Clavo was shot to death.

Clavo had left Grant Union High School with four teammates for an after-school meal at a nearby Popeye's restaurant.

A senior, Clavo was to start at cornerback that evening for the Grant High Pacers, a longtime football powerhouse, in a playoff game against another powerhouse, Beyer of Modesto.

Grant was to host Beyer at its home field, in the neighborhood known as Del Paso Heights.

Someone shot JJ Clavo as the car he was driving stopped at an intersection headed back to school, about a mile away. Another teammate in the car was shot in the arm.

News reports say it's unknown if the gunshots came from another car, or from someone on foot.

The shooter is still at large.

Somehow the teammates raced back to the school for help, but Clavo later died.

The game was postponed. Del Paso Heights grieves still. A bad day became worse.

It's hard not to make JJ Clavo a symbol. He was a kid, just a kid — just a smiling, upbeat, helpful kid, by the news accounts. He was one of 14 teenagers shot and killed this year in Sacramento County.

He was a senior looking ahead, maybe to college and maybe playing football there, maybe the military. The Saturday before, he had taken the SAT.

The photos of him used in news reports are from his senior portraits, including him in a tuxedo, posing in casual clothes, smiling in his Grant blue cap and gown. Sacramento Kings player DeMarcus Cousins offered to pay funeral expenses; he tried to do it quietly, but word got out.

Clavo was killed, his promise was killed for no good reason, because there are no reasons, and his death tore a wound of sorrow in his community.

I have been in that community, teaching in Del Paso Heights for a year-and-a-half, and driving by Grant High at least twice a week, going there on occasion for school. I was in the community, but not of the community; but I was trying to be, trying to be a teacher for children in Del Paso Heights, seven miles and a world away from where I live.

Del Paso Heights, north of downtown Sacramento, struggles with crime and violence. Police, according to news reports, say violent crime has spiked in some Del Paso neighborhoods.

On bright late-summer days, weeks before I was to begin teaching third grade at Del Paso Heights Elementary, I felt no reason to be afraid. I was checking off my list of students, arranging to visit their homes and introduce myself, tell families what they could expect from me and what I hoped their children could achieve in our class.

I visited families in their neat chainlink-fenced lots with brightly painted ceramic suns hanging on the wall in the front porch, in drafty mid-century bungalows in need of repair, in small apartments, and out in the yard in front of homes.

Later, mid-way through the school year during a casual conversation, the principal learned what I had done over the summer said I shouldn't have gone into the neighborhoods by myself.

I think of those third graders often, wonder how they're getting on and hope they're succeeding and learning, mostly despite me as a rookie teacher, but maybe a tiny part because of me. They would be in 10th grade now, and most would probably be going to Grant High; I look in the paper every once in a while for a name I might recognize.

Maybe they had been wearing the school's blue and gold in anticipation of last Friday's game.

Grant rallied. The postponed game was played Monday, and players from surrounding high schools showed up in their school jerseys, to pay their respects to JJ Clavo and his mother, and the Grant Pacers.

Grant beat Beyer of Modesto 35-0, and will play Granite Bay this weekend. A blood drive in JJ Clavo's honor will take place at Grant High Dec. 1.

The killing must stop! say Grant High leaders and community organizers and JJ's mother, and the police, and I agree, from my comfortable place seven miles away. It is something the community says after every senseless killing, though I don't say anything because it doesn't make front-page, top-of-the-hour news.

Maybe in Jaulon "JJ" Clavo, who could not be protected even by the refuge of camaraderie and discipline and pride of the Grant Pacers football program — one upbeat kid killed on a day the world had gone madder still — can move people from the comfort of distance to support those calling for, needing, deserving change.