Gabriel wasn’t supposed to be in my junior year American Literature class. He had been in another class for an entire semester, but he heard from my students that I was “hard.” I gave tons of writing assignments. My students told him I was nice, but I “did too much.” I made students work.
So Gabriel parked himself in front of the counselor’s office until they changed his schedule. Changing the schedule because you might like another teacher better was not allowed. You can’t really run a high school that way. Students can be fickle.
Gabriel wasn’t fickle. He also wasn’t taking no for an answer. At the beginning of second semester, Gabriel Pulido was a student in my third period class. He sat in the way back, his head resting against the wall, learning in silence for weeks. He worked hard, improved with every assignment, and if it were up to him would never answer a question or give an opinion.
One tradition I always keep in my class is Friday Free Topic. Friday Free Topic means you can write about whatever you want in your journal, and then share whatever you feel like sharing. Out of some beautiful chance, third period was populated with several closet poets, singers, songwriters, and dancers. Friday Free Topic became a weekly event people rehearsed for ahead of time.
Next thing I knew, Gabriel shared a poem out of his journal. He read from his seat in the back of the class. It was an awesome poem. In a cinematic, fast-moving turn of events, Gabriel ended up deciding to help lead a Spoken Word club at our school. Then he and several of his poet classmates were competing all over the city in Spoken Word contests, and winning. The poetry adventure that year culminated for Gabriel and several others from our club in a sudden trip to Los Angeles for the national Brave New Voices competition, a fifth place win, and appearance in a documentary for HBO.
Gabriel Pulido is a very powerful person.
Now graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a double major, Gabriel Pulido is still performing, and elevating others. He is an advocate for justice, a poetry teacher and coach, and an inspired, still award-winning performer.
I consider Gabriel Pulido my poetry godfather. When I was his teacher, I helped him with his essays, but I hadn’t written my own poetry in years. He inspired me to return to it. I continue to consult with him on questions of justice and art. I love this former student, and will always remember the weeks he spent in the back of the class, hiding his light until he was good and ready.
Check out the shy guy now:
Consider purchasing Gabriel’s chapbook from his excellent website.
Gabriel Pulido, this post is for you.