By Christopher Green
a moment that made me proud of the kids and teachers at Burnerson Junior High School….
For my friends from DU, I posted this back on May 4th.
Thirty-eight years ago today, I was in ninth grade at Lee Burneson Jr. High.
Here in Westlake, Ohio…
The previous weekend the last Canteen of the year was held. Of course, I was there and I admit I was gatering. (For those who do not know what gatering is, think slam dancing but rolling around on the floor instead of slamming into each other standing up.) My older brother knew one of the guys in the group that was playing so by extension, he would acknowledge my existence.
At the first break, someone, I don’t remember who, but I think was Clay McCoy, handed me this sheet of paper and asked if I could get the band to make an announcement. I read the paper and it basically was asking all students to walk outside at 11:00 AM on May fourth in remembrance of the still recent, still stinging shooting that took place down the pike a piece at Kent State.
A lot of us had older brothers, cousins or even uncles who were over in Vietnam, almost everyone knew someone who had been over there, and since that war was still raging on, it was a contentious request.
But being who I am and being that I was always and forever a vocal opponent to anything and everything that had to do with the “Establishment”, I agreed. I charged right up there and asked if they would announce my announcement. They went one step further and said, Kid, you get up there…”
So I did.
That was it. End of story. Since May fourth that year fell on a Thursday, there was time to either let the pot boil over or for the whole idea to fizzle out.
I missed Monday and Tuesday because I had a bout of the crud and was coughing a lot more than usual and just not feeling good at all. By Wed, when I went back to school, I had completely forgot about the walk out I had announced just this last Friday. Remember this was before face book, twitter, Emails, and all the other stuff we use to keep track of each other 24/7.
I had been completely out of touch.
I walked to school so I could grab a few smokes on the way.
By the time I got to school, the bell was about to ring so the halls were crowded. I noticed that a lot of people were looking at me, pointing and talking. I really did not think that much about it because I could vacillate between ass hole and political agitator within the same sentence so I was use to a certain amount or notoriety.
But this was different. Most of the people were looking at me in a different way.
When I got to Home Room, I understood. The other kids in the class were whispering and I heard “Canteen”, “Kent State”, “Walkout” and it all came back to me.
There was a note from the principal for me to come and see him before school began.
He sat me down and looked at me with what I now know must have been very tired eyes. He seemed ancient but looking back, he probably wasn’t that much older than I am now. We all knew he was retiring from being a Junior High principal at the end of the year and that he was going back to what he loved best, teaching trig to students who wanted to learn trig over at the high school.
“Mr. Green. What am I going to do with you now?” I was afforded just a little deference since my mom was a teacher but thank god, not in my school system.
I kind of knew what he wanted but was not going to admit this. I slouched further into the seat.
“This business about a walkout. You know I could have you expelled from school. What would your mother think of that?”
I mumbled something.
“If anyone walks out of this school tomorrow at 11:00, you will be expelled. If you walk out, just keep walking and don’t come back.”
I shrugged and mumbled something more.
“Do you understand me, Mr. Green?”
“Do understand the war, Mr. Terrick?”
Well, suffice it to say I was handed a whole bunch of detentions for being a “smart alek” and was sent back to class with that warning reiterated one more time.
Well the whole school was buzzing. In social study class the cool teachers, the ones who didn’t wear ties and sat Indian style on their desks were using this as a teaching experience.
Some teachers were making it perfectly clear that no punk kid was going to walk out of his classroom. It is probably pretty much the way it is today.
Anyway, there was no way I could not walk out now. Mr. Terrick had thrown down the gauntlet and I had picked it up.
The next day Mr. Terrick announced in Home Room and at the class changes that no one should even be considering walking out at 11:00.
The school was a buzz.
As the classes changed, the hallways were filled with excitement as kids on each side of the issue were proclaiming what they were going to do. Even the seventh graders were talking about it.
So I was in my History Class. I cannot remember the teachers’ name. Everyone was looking at the clock as it ticked toward 11:00.
At three minutes till, I couldn’t stand it anymore, got up, and walked toward the door. The teacher said to me “do what you have to do but be prepared for the consequences.”
He stepped aside and I was in the hallway, by now it was less than two minute to 11:00. I headed toward the door and of course Mr. Terrick was standing there, daring me to cross.
“If you step out that door Mr. Green, don’t bother coming back.”
Of course, I charged through the door and went out to the sidewalk out front.
Then came the longest moments I had to spend alone in my short life.
Just when I thought no one was going to join me, the doors flew open and a couple hundred kids spilled out and lined up with me on the front sidewalk. There were people from every part of the school. The smart kids, the band kids, the shop kids, the quiet kids, the loud kids, everyone was piling out.
There were more kids outside than in.
I immediately started to shout stop the war, stop the war. A friend of mine, Steve Lizenby, said shhh, Chris, this is to remember the kids shot at Kent State.
He was as wise as a sophomore.
We were all quite. It was exactly how it should have been.
Mr. Terrick appeared with a Bull Horn, where he got a Bull Horn, I don’t know, and told everyone to get back inside the school. But no one budged. We were going to stay out for five minutes.
And then, just like that, the whole thing was over and everyone filed back into school in an orderly manner.
Everyone except for me.
I was suspended for three days. Everyone else was given a one-day detention. This was huge since some of the kids who walked out lived four or five miles away from the school. They would have to walk home.
Now that we are headed toward our 35th high school reunion, I wonder if anyone will talk about that day.