Remembering Brittney

Yesterday I received some absolutely devastating news. I found out that one of my amazing students passed away at St. Mark’s Hospital on Saturday at only 19 years old due to Pneumonia. I could not get ahold of myself yesterday to stop the flow of tears that kept coming throughout the day. I feel like I’ve lost a child or something. After some intensive prayer, I was finally able to feel some peace yesterday evening. And I’ve been a mixture of happy and sad as I’ve reflected back on my memories of her. But since all of my memories of her are happy, I am feeling blessed to have had the chance to get close to her. I’m grateful for my knowledge of the Plan of Salvation and knowing that this isn’t the end. She’s just on the other side now. But it’s startling and it has caused me to reflect on what a precious gift life is.. and the people that are in mine. I’m especially grateful right now for every student I’ve had the opportunity to teach and for the bonds and friendships I’ve made. Today, I was asked to contribute a memory or two of her for her eulogy. It turns out writing something for a eulogy is pretty hard, and I’m sure I wrote too much. But here’s what I came up with:

Brittney Crowder… how do I say this? How do I write a ray of sunshine? From the first second she entered into my classroom I knew she was special. Brittney walked in with a big sparkling smile on her face and introduced herself and my first thought was, “this has to be one of the most polite girls I’ve ever met.” And when the woman who claimed to be her “sister” (a.k.a. mother), Cassandra came in, and the sarcastic banter between them began, I knew teaching them was gonna be a hilarious ride. And it was. They kept us all laughing. Probably the funniest part about it was hearing this typically sweet, happy girl throw out sarcastic zingers and smack talk in every classroom game as soon as it got competitive.

But one thing I’ll never forget about Brittney was her selfless attitude. She apologized more than anybody I’ve ever met because she put everyone before herself, never wanting to inconvenience anyone. She never ever failed to ask me about my day or my life or what I did over the weekend — not once. She was consistently helping everyone around her. She was one of the smartest students I’ve had, and she knew all the answers to my questions in class. I was always impressed by her ability to retain information. But she held back from taking over because she wanted others in the class to have a chance to participate too. It was so funny to watch her when my students played a speed vocabulary game, because she always knew the answer first, but she would slowly and carefully write the word out in fancy lettering so it wouldn’t be such an obviously hard beating. And then she would doodle her name or my name on the board while she waited.

Brittney was positive, she was funny, she was witty, she had a brilliant white smile that lit up everything. She had an easy and contagious laugh, and she radiated happiness, despite all the hard and terrible things she occasionally alluded to that she had experienced in her young life. She was focused and knew what was important. She was creative and she never held back expressing her love with words and hugs and gifts and notes. She was thoughtful and aware. She was never too busy to help or to stop and talk. She was respectful and considerate. And she had an impact on everyone she came into contact with simply because she cared about them. And there was a maturity in her beyond her years. I think, even though she only spent a short few years on the earth, she fit a lot of living into them.

My favorite memory of Brittney is probably when she took it upon herself to make a video for the Medical Administrative Assistant program in order to recruit more people to enroll. She re-wrote the lyrics to LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem,” and Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie.”

One day on break in class we decided we’d teach one of the other students how to do some dance moves like the Jerk, along with the Cat Daddy and the Reject and the Dip and Crumping.  And then we taught the Dougie to the Career Services Department. She filmed it for the video and we laughed our guts out every time we watched it. And then she made me rap her “Teach Me How to Dougie” lyrics, which she revised to “Teach Me How to Study,”… into her phone… with my earbuds in to hear the beat of the song. It was one of the funniest moments ever, sitting in the computer lab, getting my white girl rap swag on. And then she told me I sounded like Lady Sovereign and had a legit rap career ahead of me. Ha ha!

I keep imagining she’ll walk through the door again with her hood on and her headphones in and her big smile asking me how I am. I absolutely love Brittney. She truly became my dear friend over the course of her time at Everest, and will always hold a special place in my heart as one of my favorite people. It feels like she’s gone way too soon, but I know she’s up in heaven radiating that same happiness and love she was famous for here, laughing and exchanging stories with everyone around her… and maybe even teaching them how to Dougie.

hey MLK, I have a dream too..

it’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. an advocate for tolerance and equality.. a truly great historical figure in standing up for humanity. I have always held a deep and resounding respect for his impact on society in America and the voice he gave to black Americans everywhere that still echoes today.. the voice that now represents equality for all races. I love his ideals and his oft-quoted line, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

well, MLK… I have a dream too. I daily realize that, despite everyone’s best wishes and delusions, racism is not dead in our world. it is alive and well. and though white people have always been viewed as the big bad perpetrators.. it comes from all sides. I am not excusing my race, because our actions throughout history have been atrocious.. and many attitudes against white people stem from actions long sustained throughout history. but I frequently feel discriminated against.. by those who are not of my race (or, in another can of worms, who are not of my gender).. when I have not been the one to commit a wrong against an individual or an overall race.

I work with a very diverse population of students, which brings a lot of exposure to different challenges and beliefs and points of view. I also have a diverse group of friends that come from different places and ideas. and I follow many people of various backgrounds on Twitter. my timeline is always full of the strangest mixture of comments and pictures and articles. but the most interesting and sad comments to me are the blanket statements and judgments and stereotypes and categorizations and especially the elitist attitudes based on race, religion, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and social status.

this has always been my soapbox issue — my biggest pet peeve. passing judgment on another person just because they fit into a certain “category” in our minds is absolutely ridiculous.. but it is, admittedly, human nature. basic psychology: our brains process information in the form of snap judgment in order to allow us to function efficiently. yet I still hate it. obviously everyone does it to an extent.. it’s nearly inevitable. but blatant prejudice against a certain group of people for no legitimate reason is unacceptable to me.

why do we have to talk about someone as “the black dude,” or “the poly girl,” or “the Mexican,” or “the gay guy,” or… you knew it was coming… “the white girl?” in most cases, what does that have to do with anything? does that characteristic honestly affect the story that you’re telling or the comment that you’re making? it really can’t just be “the guy,” or “the girl?” or.. if you’re gonna get really crazy.. his/her name?

it doesn’t take long reading my blog to realize that I’m engaged to someone of a different race and culture and ethnic background. he is brown and I am white.. and you can imagine the emphasis that basic difference between us places on race in our relationship. within his culture there is a word to describe my race: palangi. it is not necessarily an offensive word.. it just means a white person. but when anyone in his life talks to him about me, without fail, I am “the palangi.” I’ll always be his “palangi fiancee” or his “palangi wife.” I can’t just be his wife.. they usually don’t even know or call me by my name. my race will forever be my identifier.

now please don’t think I am writing this to bash any one particular culture or to point fingers… I completely love my fiancee and his family and his culture. I am merely using it as an example of a little thing that can have an impact on how how someone feels. and to go a step further, I have even been dumped for being white in a past relationship. it’s not awesome to be dumped by the person you care about for something you can do absolutely nothing about. regardless of the way I feel on the inside, the closest I can ever come to a different skin color is looking like a Cheeto with a Snooki spray tan. and recent events in my life in the past few months have stirred up pain from that past event (in my dating life, not with Snooki) which have hit pretty close to home.

the bottom line is… we are humans. we are brothers and sisters because we’re all members of the human race.
when did it become more important to match skin tones and cultural traditions than it did to love and accept people?
why do we find it necessary to perpetuate attitudes and judgments that injure those around us and blind us to the point of possibly preventing some of the greatest friends/relationships we could have in our lives?

I ask these questions to myself as well, because I am by no means perfect. I am guilty too. but if I reflect, personally, my diverse group of friends has been a huge blessing to me, and so educational. stepping outside my bubble to look through different windows and realize that other thought patterns, other ways of life, and other approaches to dealing with people can be just as good, or better, than my own, has shaped me as a person.

also, I know I have a good life. I haven’t lived in extreme struggle or hunger or terror, but I come from my own set of challenges that maybe another person wouldn’t be aware of. I am still a human being too. being white doesn’t make me bad or inherently spoiled or unable to understand someone. I have a long way to go and much to learn, but I’m determined not to do it with biased blinders on.

I have a dream, too, Mr. King, that someday people of other races and cultures will judge ME not by the color of my skin, but by the content of my character.. as I try to do the same for those I encounter.

and may that dream of yours continue to be carried forward until it finally becomes a reality, because.. essentially, the point of this post is..
racism sucks.

the end.