Jack Schneider alum of City Year San Antonio 13'

After my service year, I returned to Sam Houston High School as a substitute teacher, although I dedicated most of my time to the love of my life, music. I recently recorded my first album, G.E.T. The CD features twelve original songs, seven of which were directly inspired by my students. My mission with G.E.T. is to amplify the voice of my students, for their voices are seldom taken seriously.


After releasing G.E.T. I had the privilege of leading a workshop at a youth correctional facility that was taught by a CY alum. It was the most electric I have felt since my City Year. With a group of 14 incarcerated youth, I lead a discussion on the ability to shape and escape reality through lyric writing. We rocked out to a Michael Jackson flute/beatbox remix and they helped me workshop my newest song, “Queen James.” It was the first time I had played it for anyone and it’s important that I share it with you.

Kiana James was a superstar. She would stroll into my Algebra I class rocking a metal bowtie made of fake gold and bangle bracelets that matched the size of her personality. She was loud, bold and beautiful. She would always sit in the back of the classroom smiling about something that us mortals could never understand. Her desire to learn was an anomalous inspiration within her peer group.  Yall better listen up, shed command when her classmatesfocus waned. Whenever she talked, people listened. Wherever she went, you can be sure a posse of adoring friends were at her side.

Despite her magnetic charm, she was frequently troubled. I dont like this place, sir. Lets work outside, shed say. We’d sit outside on a staircase and talk about the baffling world of negative numbers. If her mind was stuck elsewhere, Id use my own bold loudness to bring her back. Shed chuckle, then wed focus up.

On the evening of May 23, 2014 Kiana was killed in drive by shooting as she was walking down the street with a group of friends.

At Kianas funeral service, I asked her grandmother if I could write a song in tribute to Kiana. With her grace, I have been writing and rewriting ever since. Sixteen year old Kiana James should have made it past the wall. She was a natural leader with endless potential.  Although, we will never get to see the full light that Kiana was becoming, we can use her story to reflect what we know was already there. Through sharing her story, Kiana will make it past the wall. So here is your song, Kiana. Rest In Power.

*Photo by Susan Varghese

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