Until editing this piece and looking for Natalie’s picture, I did not realize I had written about these Twinkies back in 2021. Enjoy the total rewrite! OLD VERSION: https://rotb.org/believed-in/ 💙rB
I gesture toward the back, greenish wall—the one adorned with a dozen packing slips taped to it.
I walk towards it while still addressing the two dozen Algebra 2 students in my Lincoln Heights classroom.
I point and say,
Each of these pieces of paper represents a person who believes in you. Take a moment to absorb that. People you’ve never met,”—I read a name from the wall—“like Clark Johnson in Decatur, Georgia…and I don’t even know exactly where that is… believe in you.
Patitos, reflect on that.
As an endearment, I call them by the Spanish word for ducklings.
I pause again.
Patitos, people you will never meet, random individuals—so be cautious when you complain about the people in this world—want you to succeed enough that they are willing to spend a portion of their paycheck to send you a box of erasers.
If this were a scene in a movie, the music would swell here.
No matter what it seems like, no matter if you believe otherwise, there are people who believe in you.
What I don’t say at the moment—but they know—is that I love them.
A few months earlier, I discovered donorschoose.org—a nonprofit enabling individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects.
(Let’s not delve into how broken public education has become that teachers are writing grants for classroom supplies.)
Teaching at Los Angeles Leadership Academy, a charter school, allows me to post mini-grants.
“We make mistakes. Buy us erasers?” goes viral.
Cartons upon cartons of pencil cap erasers arrive.
(I end up distributing boxes to every teacher in the school.)
“Can you write to the people at Hostess Brands and get us some Twinkies?” asks 17 year old Natalie, the the bright-eyed student government president.
“Nah, I’m good with getting you school supplies,” I tell her, “You write that one.”
Fast forward to the present day. I’m living in Portland, running ROTB full time.
I receive a text from Damen, a man I met once in High Desert State Prison near Susanville, California.
Damen texts that he has embarked on a spiritual quest to become comfortable with all that bothers him.
I thank you for writing.
And I assure you that, while you can get less disturbed by that which is uncomfortable, by definition, that which is not comfortable is not comfortable.
Uncomfortable things are, by definition, uncomfortable.
Rocks just aren’t comfortable places unto which we can lay our heads.
No matter how spiritual you get.
I suggest he start with sitting (meditation) to practice the “muscle” of learning to sit with that which is uncomfortable.
Unbeknownst to Damen, I share his mailing address with some folk on my email list, asking random people to write him cards.
Because random notes from people he has never met and will probably never meet will help him remember something that is at times very hard to remember—that he is loved.
It turns out that Natalie—who will later earn a degree in social work and join the Los Angeles Police Department—wrote to Hostess Brands.
I only find this out when when a vice president of the company phones me to make sure that there really is a student who wrote, “Yes I’m asking you to send us some free food, but really, I’m just writing to see if anyone out there cares.”
Take a moment.
Think about your own life.
There was, I’m certain, a moment—it might have been fast—when you felt that the universe cared, that you were (and are) beloved.
Lean into that feeling.
You are beloved.
Kristin at Hostess sends boxes of desserts.
Boxes and boxes.
With a note to say, “People care.”
(Natalie ends up distributing snack cakes to every student in the school.)
Email (or text) someone you believe and tell them.
It doesn’t need to be fancy.
Just a “Hey, I was thinking about you, this world, and I’m glad you are alive. I believe in you.”
And/Or, send a note to Damen.
Damen Rabb, Sr. #P82951
Delano, CA 93216
Because love is what we need right now.