As a writer, poet, advocate against violence and father, I said a quick prayer as I walked into Gotham High School on Tuesday, April 27th. I asked my Creator God to help me reach these fertile young minds and let them receive and understand the message that I was to give them. I've been visiting High Schools for over 15 years; since the time I published 'The City Game', and many schools have me come in frequently, as each new class reads 'Street Angel' and 'Brooklyn Story'. But I always get a little more pumped when I visit a new school.
I was watching the N.B.A. playoffs the other night and heard Charles Barkley say that young black men are brainwashed because their goals are either being 'rap stars' or 'entertainers'. It's like when I ask the students who their heroes are and most of the time they say Martin Luther King. But when I ask if they ever heard of Fannie Lou Hamer, Paul Robeson, Whitney Young or Ida B. Wells, almost all of them look at me with a blank stare.
After explaining to the students who these great historical icons were, I talk a little about myself. I told them I was raised in the Albany Projects about a stones throw from where we were during the '70's and I was just like them. Back then, I had bought into the macho, badass mentality of the streets and at one time carried a gun for protection--or at leat that is what I told myself. I had a temper then, and in hindsight, I know it was my Creator God and my mother's daily prayers that kept me out of situations where I might have used that weapon.
After a tour in the Air Force, I started channeling my negative aggression into writing. In 1993, after a series of writing classes, I self-published 'Incident On 43rd Street'. The great feedback that it received inspired me to start my own publishing company, Word Is Bond Press. I decided to use my stories as a way of education young adults to the minefields of growing up in the urban jungle.
I am proud and honored to say that the time spent a Gotham High was a great success. The students loved my books and had so many questions about my characters, the art of writing and my life story. But the crowning moment was when I got ready to leave, the teacher, Nitzan Ziv, came up to me and said: "Mr. Batista, one of my male students said he is now adding you to his list of positive role models.
I smiled--what about that, Charles Barkley!