The history of Minneapolis has always been a tale of two Girards.
And so goes the tale to this day:
On Girard Avenue South, she awakens in a warm, 16-by-16-foot space all her own to the smell of bacon frying, toast toasting, and the sounds of people preparing to go out buying, briefcases flying. She brushes, bustles, bathes and eats before hopping into her Honda Accord, a gift at the dawn of her 17th year, for the drive to St. Paul Academy and a day of college preparation.
On Girard Avenue North, she awakens in a cold cubicle that she shares with two little sisters. She washes her face, brushes her teeth, helps her sisters get ready and trudges to the corner to catch the bus and ride to North High School, where a welcome free breakfast will still the rumbling in her stomach, if not the trouble in her heart.
On Girard Avenue South, he rises to the cheery sound of piped in tunes, the smell of pancakes, and the promise of sprucing up in his private bathroom adjacent to his 12-by-18-foot private space. Doctor Mama has already left for the clinic. Professor Daddy drives him to where college begins in grade five, Breck Academy, Harvard University Preparatory School of the Midwest.
On Girard Avenue North, he rises with his ears still ringing from a night of scattered gunshots and sirens receding into the dark — less dark than the tenor of his soul. Mama never came home last night; Daddy never has been around. So since he’s on his own, he figures he’ll just skip school this time. Down on Humboldt, a new family awaits, not the best dudes, he knows that, but offering protection, perilous profit, gratification now, because life is short around here. Seems better than Bethune Elementary.
Once back home on Girard Avenue South, she greets her private tutor. She only got a 33 on her first try at the ACT so, knowing that many of her Yale competitors these days are scoring a perfect 36, she welcomes the professional boost that purchased their success. She’s not sure what success means, but she knows it’s grand and will make Mom and Dad proud.
Once back home on Girard Avenue North, she does worksheets for history homework, given to her by a teacher without explanation and without context. She tries to do her algebra II homework, but she passed algebra I and geometry with a “C” without really grasping the subjects, and her current teacher shows no interest in advancing her skill. From her roost at the creaky dining room table her little sisters are way more noisy than creaky, so she gives up.
Mama won’t be back until late, the little ones will need to be fed, and not long after dinner and television they’ll all get sleepy enough for bed.
Once back home on Girard Avenue South, after violin lessons, he does his algebra homework — carefully, because he knows mastery will be important for understanding calculus a few years hence. Doctor Mama and Professor Daddy told him so.
Calculus done, he saves history homework and an initial draft of his English research paper for after dinner — tortellini professionally presented by the cook with Caesar salad and home-baked bread. Homework done, a look at his Chinese assignment for the Saturday school, another round on the violin, and he’s off to bed.
Time passes. Springing from Girard Avenue South, having successfully attained that 36 on the ACT, she’s off to Yale in the autumn, faces of Mom and Dad all aglow.
Still stuck at Girard Avenue North, she endures a pregnancy, incurred out of ever-present boredom, options never offered.
Proceeding from Girard Avenue South, from grade five to grade six, he’s at the top of his class and on a path to succeed. “Success” remains a mystery, though he’s seen it many times.
One day the fast life grabs him walking out of Girard Avenue North, throws him down and puts a bullet in his head. Mama comes home and even Daddy returns now to groan about “my baby.”
The teachers and principal at Bethune, who had ignored him as one of those bringing the problems of society into their hallways, express concern, mumbling something about how “he was a mighty fine boy when he got himself to school.”
And thus goes the tale of two Girards, where hypocrisy abounds, success is elusive even where it seems attained, and death, often premature, too often finds souls as well as bodies.
Gary Marvin Davison is director of the New Salem Educational Initiative in North Minneapolis. He blogs at http://newsalemeducation.blogspot.com.