Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rant #249: I Remember the Day Well

As I recounted on Facebook yesterday, May 4 was the 40th anniversary of the student shootings at Kent State.

And 40 years later, I am embarrassed to recount my experience on that day.

For those of you who didn't read my story (probably most of you), here it is.

Some background: I was in seventh grade in 1970, and as a 13 year old, I was pretty much just discovering the world.

I lived in an area, as I have talked about many, many times, by the name of Rochdale Village, Queens, New York. It was an interesting development to live in, to say the least. Built in the middle of a predominately black area in South Jamaica, the neighborhood became a flashpoint for a lot of things during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

I was going to I.S. 72 at the time, the center of a lot of the problems between Rochdale and the outside community, so what I put up on Facebook was from that viewpoint, 40 years later.

"Forty years ago today, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fired at Kent State University, killing two students. Does anyone remember the to do that this caused in I.S. 72? A petition was sent around to close the school down in honor of these students, as well as honoring those students who lost their lives in a similar incident around the same time at Jackson State.

To honor these students, the school was closed on May 8. My signature was on that petition--maybe the first one on there--because I was going to take off on May 8 anyway, because my bar mitzvah was on May 9. I figured the whole school should have off, and this crazy thinking evidently worked.

Not to dishonor the memory of the fallen, but my reason for signing that petition had little to do with them and more to do with "why should I have a day off on my record when I can get the whole school to have off?"

Yes, I admit to that. Looking back, that was just a silly junior high kid acting on a whim, but it's true."

I later answered a post by someone who had gone to the area's high school, the since-closed Springfield Gardens High School, at this moment in time. He told me it was pretty intense at the school.

Here is my reply:

"I can imagine, it was probably more intense there than it was at I.S. 72 ... although it was pretty hot there too. If you remember, the press pretty much overlooked the Jackson State incident, deciding to focus on Kent State. This got a lot of people upset, and I think that to quell any possible 'negative' actions directed at I.S. 72 (which was a flashpoint in the community as it was), they just closed us down for the day.

The P.S. to the story is that I was very sick in the week leading up to my bar mitzvah. By that Friday, I had 105 temperature (no exaggeration) and I almost had to do my haftorah at home in bed.

On May 8, I watched the Knicks on the Connecticut ABC affiliate (WABC in New York carried the game on tape delay) win the NBA championship, and I point to that game as the event that got me going again.

I was still pretty sick the next day, but I had my bar mitzvah in the temple. After it was all over, my health improved tremendously. It was simply a bout of nerves, that is all it was.

So I just remember this whole period as one revolving around my bar mitzvah. However, for most of our country, it had other implications.

But I was a typical 13 year old kid, and I thought the world revolved around me!"

Well, there you have it.

The memory still lingers, and while I am not proud of it, it is a part of my growing up years that I will never forget.

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