I’m at this Goodwill store getting some artwork frames.. I don’t think what I’m buying is important to the story.. and I get to check-out where two teenage boys are chatting up the pretty young cashier.

They respectfully move aside for me without breaking the framing of the scene. The store is almost empty, I’m the only customer up front.

One of the boys is narrating heroically how he got suspended. I look at him with the side eye in my head. I’d say 10th, 11th grade or thereabout. Being a “bad boy” is a mark he wants to wear on his sleeve and paint it with valor. His friend is cheering him on.

The young cashier is amused, nonchalant. I’m listening in silently.

Soon as I got my receipt, I turned to these restless black studs and said- Young man, did I hear you say you got suspended?

He face suddenly fell halfway to the floor. He recognize a quiet edge of authority in my voice and reacted to it. I saw the kid in him. He raised his eyes just a little to look at me, perhaps a lesson that had been barked at him so much it got stuck in his spine- Boy, look at me when I talk to you!

In a voice completely devoid of the bravado I heard in his storytelling, he said- Yes.

I said- Don’t get suspended again. You might be a future president of this country, who knows. Protect that possibility fiercely, you hear me?

Something about years spent teaching young black boys and girls in NY reached out from the past and hit me right in my middle eye.

He said- Yes, ma’am.

I wheeled my frames out and felt the heavy silence grip those boys.

Maybe what I was buying is important to the story. If you must frame black boys, do it with words that stretch them upward, outward and deepward.

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