Summertime was usually never something ten year-old Jameel looked forward to. While other kids laughed and screamed with excitement on the last day of school, he quietly sat at his desk, dreading the next three months. He dreaded the fact that he would be hungry many days because there wasn’t enough food to go around between his brothers, cousins, aunt, and himself. He dreaded not having his classroom to go to every day, which was his safe space because his older cousins were always getting into physical fights. He dreaded the pressure coming from the drug dealers and gang members who lived in his apartment complex who were now viewing Jameel as a possible prospect. He dreaded not being able to spend more time with his mom, who was doing her best working two jobs but was rarely home.
As Jameel sat quietly contemplating his upcoming summer, a paper airplane flew past his face and crashed onto his desk.
“Hey man!” called a student named Christian. “Throw it over here!”
With a heavy sign, Jameel reluctantly sent the airplane sailing back to where it came from and then he put his head down on his desk.
“Yo, what’s up?” Christian said as he happily ran over to Jameel’s desk. “It’s summer vacation! What’s the matter with you, man?”
“Nothing…” muttered Jameel from under his arms.
Christian took a moment to study the boy. He knew Jameel lived in his apartment complex and although the two were friendly, they didn’t really know each other very well. Christian had observed some of Jameel’s cousins fistfighting in the parking lot one night. They were pretty drunk and the cops had to come break it up.
“Hey man,” said Christian. “Not looking forward to being home all summer?”
Jameel lifted his head and looked at the other boy.
“Nah,” he replied, looking down at the floor.
“Gettin’ rough in your house?” asked Christian.
“It’s fine,” lied Jameel as he started kicking the leg of his desk.
Christian wanted to do something to help Jameel, but he wasn’t sure if that was possible. He spent most of his summer at his grandma’s house, and then of course there was that awesome two weeks at the Riverside Center...wait…
“Hey, man! There’s a camp I go to every year at a place called Riverside. It’s a theatre. Like, a real-live place with a stage and everything. We dance to cool songs and get to sing and it’s a great time. Wanna come? It starts in about two weeks.”
Jameel looked at Christian with a glimmer of hope in his eyes. It was quickly squelched when he realized that he didn’t have any money to pay for any sort of a camp.
“That’s ok,” he said. “My mom doesn’t have any extra money.”
“Dude,” laughed Christian, “it’s free! My grandma doesn’t pay anything. And you get breakfast and lunch every day. The food’s good. Chicken nuggets, fries, hamburgers…”
Free? thought Jameel. And they give you breakfast and lunch every day?
“I’ll have my grandma send the information to your mom. You should come. It’s pretty awesome. And on the last day, we put on a real show with a real audience. It’s like we’re real actors!” Christian said as he ran off after his paper airplane.
Whoa, thought Jameel. Maybe this summer won’t suck after all. He smiled. Then he got up and ran after the paper airplane that came flying past him again.