…Reflecting on surviving the seventh grade & a school shooting by Stacey James McAdoo…
Seven is said to be the world’s most favorite number. There are seven days of the week. Seven continents. Seven wonders of the world. Some associate the number as being divine, perfect, and a representation of completion. And if you’ve ever played craps, then you know its roll is considered lucky. Seven for me makes me think of my 1988-1989 school year. Divine, perfect, complete, and lucky are most definitely not the words that immediately come to mind. I was in the seventh grade…living in a new house across town. It was not a newly built house, but a new to me house with new family members whom I had recently acquired. My new home was a seven-minute car drive to Henderson (my newly assigned junior high school). “Colors,” both the title soundtrack by Ice-T and the movie, were hot. Real hottt. And it seemed like the very next day after they were released, gangs were suddenly everywhere in Little Rock.
Back then seventh grade was the transitional year from elementary to junior high. It’s where we were expecting the rubber to meet the road. We had been warned about peer pressure, that our bodies would be changing and that our teachers would no longer baby us. We understood that we would be facing more challenges and expected to be able to keep up and rise to the occasion. Change was not something I was particularly fond of. Yet, suddenly I was faced with a lot. I always had an unhealthy amount of anxiety centered around the starting of a new school year…and now for the first time, I would have seven new teachers instead of one.
None of the lectures, warnings, or advice could have ever prepared me for many of the things I would experience that year – namely, the shooting death of a classmate seven minutes before the start of the school day while we all waited outside on the field for the bell to ring to let us inside.
My mind is peculiar and often very protective of me. Sometimes she blocks out whole passages of time and erases people all together as a means of self-preservation. Other times she etches every detail of an image, sound, or memory to the inside of my eyes and ears. I’m not exactly sure how she knows which memories or traumas I can handle and which ones I cannot – for there are some that still dance around in my head that I prefer she would have traded out.
I don’t know where this blog entry is going. Or why I’m up writing in the wee hours of the night/morning instead of sleeping so that I can be fully rested and prepared for the students that I will greet shortly. After all, seventh grade was thirty years ago, and he wasn’t a “friend friend”. Plus, they let us call our parents and take the rest of that day off to get our minds right before returning to school to hardly ever speak of the incident again.
There are a few things that I do know:
- There have been at least seven documented school shootings in Arkansas since then.
- To this day, I don’t like to be surrounded by crowds — I always must have elbow room and space to run.
- I’ve been teaching my kids to pay attention to everyone and everything around them…to identify all exits…and how best to respond to an active shooter in various vicinities for as long as I can remember.
- I’ll be glad when zero becomes the world’s new favorite number. Maybe then that will be the number associated with school/mass shootings and deaths to gun violence.
And maybe, just maybe, the next time I’m asked to speak at Henderson’s 8th-grade promotion life, instead of death, will be on my mind.