“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

It was supposed to be a week of celebration—after a year of distance learning during the pandemic, the public elementary school in Oakland where I taught had reopened. We were finally back together as a community! But the celebration abruptly ended.

I got a call from another teacher. "I'm so sorry," they said, "But K'Lea was shot and killed." Tears fell; I couldn’t stop shaking. The image of my former student experiencing something so horrific couldn’t leave my mind, and memories of her flooded back.

I had met K’Lea four years prior. Through conversations with her mother and former teachers, the immense trauma she had faced in just nine years of life of living in a high-crime area became apparent.

“Watch out for that one,” a colleague muttered.

So, I did watch out. K’Lea had her tough days; I could tell she wanted to run from what felt hard, but I watched her resiliency during math. I watched her courageous smile during recess, forming meaningful connections with her classmates. And I watched her eagerly teach younger students anytime she could help. I saw her brilliance.

I’ll continue to seek out the brilliance in those that are doubted, and fight for educational equity. While K'Lea's life was cut short, she reminds me to work toward a future where all students have the ability to actualize their potential and live long and fulfilled lives.

— Nikita Ramanujam