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648: Unteachable Moment

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Prologue

Ira Glass

So, you may have heard that last week, Starbucks closed down all of their US stores so they could do this big racial bias training program for everybody who worked at Starbucks-- the same training at every store Starbucks owns, 8,000 stores, over 175,000 people-- a very eccentric corporate move that the company embarked on after an incident in Starbucks in Philadelphia in April that you probably heard about. Two African-American men were sitting there, calmly waiting for a friend. The manager called the police, who arrested them as customers asked why.

Man

Well, what did they do? What did they do? Someone tell me what they did.

Woman

They didn't do anything. I saw the entire thing.

Ira Glass

Here's what they did. They wanted to use the bathroom, but they hadn't bought anything. The manager said no. She asked them to leave. When they wouldn't leave, because they were there to meet somebody, the manager called the police.

Two days after this, the company said that what happened was reprehensible, that calling the police was completely inappropriate, that the company stands firmly against racial profiling. And then it went further and announced this training, which would shut down the stores for half a day and cost them tens of millions of dollars. That is not what companies normally do. Normally, when this kind of thing happens, companies either deny they did anything wrong, or they accept they did something wrong, and then they move on. Like, they move on quickly. Moving on quickly is the key.

But here, Starbucks was taking this incident that was bad press for them from the start and they decided to kind of own it and sit with it and live in it. And they more or less declared, we have a problem with racism in this country. And our answer to Philadelphia is that Starbucks is not only going to try to fix its own racism problem, it's going to try to help fix America's racism problem, too-- which, I have to say, is basically just inviting people from all sides to criticize them.

And then the thing that they do is the biggest implicit bias training that's happened ever in all time. People argue about the effectiveness of implicit bias training anyway. I'm just trying to say, Starbucks made a very unusual choice.

Well, Kelefa Sanneh has been examining that choice for us. And he went to attend the training itself, which we're going to get to. Our show is the only journalistic outfit that Starbucks allowed to attend one of these trainings, and we did record there. That's coming up.

Kelefa is normally a staff writer for The New Yorker. Hey, Kelefa.

Kelefa Sanneh

Hey, Ira.

Ira Glass

OK, so the thing that I personally wonder about is, OK, in a purely practical way, if Starbucks wanted their employees to not do racist stuff or racial profile anybody anymore, a training like this seems so, like, squishy.

Kelefa Sanneh

Mhm, yeah.

Ira Glass

Who knows if this even works? Why not do the most old-fashioned thing out there? If they really care about this, why don't they just fire the manager, tell everybody else, OK, here's a new rule, do stuff like that, you lose your job, and then just call it a day?

People were calling for them to fire the manager for a while. They were protests demanding that. And they didn't do it. Why do this experimental, weird thing instead? Why not just fire the racists?

Kelefa Sanneh

So I talked to Howard Schultz. He's the guy who built Starbucks-- basically the Steve Jobs of Starbucks-- about why they didn't do the simple thing.

Howard Schultz

Well, I think if you're asking, would it have been easier to fire the manager on the spot, I guess it would have been easier. But it's just not the way we view the culture and values of Starbucks.

I felt strongly that this was not a time to blame one individual, that the policy was too much in a gray area. And we had not given the proper tools and resources for the manager to make the right decision. And ultimately, we were responsible, the company and myself. And that's the position we've taken.

Ira Glass

And just to be clear, the manager, at this point, is not working for Starbucks, though they will not say whether or not they fired her. The company said-- and this is a quote-- that it was a mutual decision for her to go. So when this happens, they don't make a show of firing her and setting new rules.

Kelefa Sanneh

No. Instead, the company says it's going to help lead this national conversation about race that we always hear about. I talked to Howard Schultz about this plan, this idealistic, optimistic vision of racial healing and progress. And actually, he got kind of defensive about it.

Ira Glass

Really?

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah. Like, when I asked him what seemed like a pretty obvious question about the Philadelphia thing-- I asked him, how often does this kind of thing happen in your stores? And he didn't know. He said Starbucks doesn't keep track.

Howard Schultz

If we're going to spend time on this call talking about how often police are called to Starbucks, I think it's not what we should be talking about. We should be talking about, what kind of country do we want to live in? And what can we do as a company, what can we do as citizens, to enhance the lives of all Americans? And I think it's a courageous step on our part to talk about a difficult subject.

Kelefa Sanneh

Howard Schultz loves these big, dramatic gestures. You might remember in 2008, during the Obama-McCain presidential race, Starbucks buys this ad on Saturday Night Live saying, if you vote, you can come into Starbucks, get a free cup of coffee.

Ira Glass

Yeah, I kind of vaguely remember that.

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah, he has a term for initiatives like these. He calls them "brand sparks."

Ira Glass

Brand sparks?

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah. He defines it in one of his books. He says brand sparks are "subtle, surprising, and rare marketing events usually linked to cultural or humanitarian issues and devoid of a self-serving sales pitch."

Ira Glass

Oh.

Kelefa Sanneh

That election ad, he said it worked. He said it generated goodwill for Starbucks. He said it gave the brand a halo. But this-- he said that this racism initiative-- he said this was different.

Howard Schultz

But this has nothing to do with 2008. So I don't know why you keep going back to the brand spark.

Kelefa Sanneh

Well, I--

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah. When I suggested this to Howard, that this racial bias training thing had something to do with marketing Starbucks, he didn't go for it.

Howard Schultz

Certainly, our customers are going to notice that our stores are closed. And there's been a fair amount of press about it. But it's not anything that we are promoting to send a message.

Kelefa Sanneh

I want to make sure I understand this. You say this is not a marketing event. And obviously, to some people, anything that a company does kind of looks like marketing. How is this different from a marketing event?

Howard Schultz

This is the antithesis of a marketing event. It's not something that is-- it has nothing to do with trying to sell anything. Marketing is about creating awareness and selling your product. This is not-- we're not trying to sell anything.

Kelefa Sanneh

This conversation with Howard Schultz, it happened right before the training. That's where I was supposed to go after our interview, which was supposed to last, like, half an hour.

Kelefa Sanneh

What does--

Howard Schultz

Are we almost done?

Kelefa Sanneh

What's that?

Howard Schultz

I think we're almost done.

Kelefa Sanneh

I think we're at-- we're at 15 minutes, right?

So, he didn't hang up on me. We kept talking. But once we were done, my producer and I, we get a call from a Starbucks PR rep saying, basically, look, if this is going to be some sort of gotcha piece about how this whole thing is a big marketing event, we might not be interested in participating.

Ira Glass

Well, it's weird, because there's nothing wrong with marketing. Like, they're doing a thing. They want people to know. Marketing is what companies do.

Kelefa Sanneh

Sure. They never really stop doing it, right? Marketing is sort of just a word for anything that a company does to tell the world about who it is.

Ira Glass

OK. All right, here's the theory. Is it possible that he is so insistent that there's no marketing in it because, yeah, he knows that anything his company does publicly affects how the public sees his brand. Like, of course doing anything like this is a kind of marketing.

But he doesn't want to admit it because actually, underneath it, he actually is trying to do a good thing. He's trying to actually address racism. He thinks America is too racist. He wants to do something about it. And he just feels like, oh, if we start admitting that there's some marketing, or we get some brand halo from this, that's just going to muddy the message.

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah, although what's weird is, this isn't the first time Starbucks has tried to do a good thing, right? They've had environmental initiatives. They had this voting thing, which he was happy to say the voting thing was good marketing. So in a sense, this isn't new for Starbucks.

But what is new is that this is a racism initiative. And I think he has a sense that racism is so incendiary, so sensitive, that it can't have anything to do with marketing. Like, if there's any sense that this has anything to do with marketing Starbucks, people are going to tune it out or maybe worse, right?

Ira Glass

Right, because it would be offensive.

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah, this idea, like, you're taking America's national sin of racism and using that to sell coffee. People might consider that offensive.

Ira Glass

OK, but if he really is trying to do something good here, then to put this thing together, he worked with-- I read this in the paper, the people who you would turn to if you were serious about doing a big anti-bias training. There's, like, Bryan Stevenson--

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah, Bryan Stevenson from the Equal Justice Initiative.

Ira Glass

Sherrilyn Iffil, I read.

Kelefa Sanneh

Yeah, she runs the Legal Defense Fund at the NAACP.

Ira Glass

And then, less than a week after this big training, this other thing happens-- Howard Schultz quits his job at Starbucks.

Kelefa Sanneh

Right.

Ira Glass

And there's all this speculation. Is he going run for president? And he doesn't deny whether or not he's going to run for President. He's just like, I'm going to do public service.

Kelefa Sanneh

Howard Schultz for president, right? Maybe he really does care more about fixing America than selling coffee.

Ira Glass

OK, well, today on our program, from WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. We have this multinational corporation deciding to do a touchy-feely racial bias training session. And can you think of anything harder to try to teach people in four hours, given how complicated and charged the whole subject is? And on our program today, we have this story and other stories of people trying to teach in situations where learning is not going to be easy at all.

In one of our stories, we see kids who are trying to learn in one of the least hospitable environments imaginable. We watch what happens. Stay with us.

Act One: All the Caffeine in the World Doesn’t Make You Woke

Ira Glass

Act One, All the Caffeine in the World Doesn't Make You Woke. So when Starbucks gave us permission to record at their big national training last week, they did put conditions on this-- all kinds of conditions. They would not let us record the training at one of their stores. It had to be at their corporate headquarters. They would select the participants.

So this is not going to be typical in a lot of ways. But we will get to see what the training actually is and to see whether it had any kind of impact on the group of people who we figured, given the circumstances, would be a group of employees predisposed to be into this. We figured, if this training didn't do much for them, what kind of chance was it that it was going to be any better out in the stores? And if it did work for them, well then, maybe that would be interesting in some way, also.

We honestly did not know what to expect. But we wanted to understand, OK, here's this big company that says it's trying to do this idealistic thing, take on all racial relations in America. And OK, let's take them at their word and try to understand. What did it look like when they tried to do that?

The employees at this particular training were not big, like, vice presidents, not the people in charge of the company. These were mostly mid-level managers from the supply chain, and operations, and human resources parts of the company. And most of them used to work in the stores as baristas. Kelefa now explains what he saw at that training.

Kelefa Sanneh

This was happening in 8,000 stores. And they couldn't hire 8,000 racial bias experts to lead the sessions. So the course was designed to be self-directed, with no official leader.

Whitney

I'm going to be a learner with you guys. So--

Kelefa Sanneh

I was in Seattle in a conference room at Starbucks headquarters, eight upbeat employees sitting around a table. Two were black. Most of the rest were white. And there was one very quiet PR person sitting in the corner.

Whitney

--and come back when you feel--

Kelefa Sanneh

Everyone had their Starbucks drinks-- a hot coffee, a nitro cold brew, a cold brew with milk and one pump of toffee nut syrup.

Whitney

I'm going to kind of help get us started, but then we're all learners and participants together.

Kelefa Sanneh

There was a huge, 68-page booklet printed on broadsheet newsprint in sections, like a Sunday paper--

Whitney

So let's just open our books and get started.

Kelefa Sanneh

--and a timeline running along the bottom, telling you how long each task should take.

Woman

It's page eight.

Kelefa Sanneh

Kind of ingenious, really.

Man

Let me just watch you.

Woman

No, that's fine.

Kelefa Sanneh

Some pages told the group to watch videos. Those were preloaded on an iPad. Some of them asked people to reflect and write things down. Everyone got a 40-page workbook.

Woman

--and honor the truth of others.

Kelefa Sanneh

There was even the racial equivalent of a Surgeon General's warning.

Woman

--feel free to do so. Conversations about race can induce a feeling that experts call "racial anxiety." And when we're anxious, we can't always think clearly.

Kelefa Sanneh

If that happens, you're supposed to pause, share your feelings, and then have a short group conversation about how you felt.

Woman

First, let the group--

Kelefa Sanneh

So yeah, there were some moments where it felt like I'd stumbled into some sort of beachfront spiritual retreat.

Woman

And then, as a group, have a short conversation--

Kelefa Sanneh

Like, here's Common, the rapper and actor, on the iPad, doing the opening meditation.

Common

I am grateful to be with you Starbucks partners today, because this work is close to my heart. I want you to see something in your mind's eye. Close your eyes for a moment. Yes, close them. I want you to think of a time you felt seen.

Kelefa Sanneh

All of this was inspired by the incident in Philadelphia. But the only time the materials mentioned the incident itself was to explain why the training was happening. Instead, the training zoomed way out, tackling racial bias and discrimination more generally. The guidebook implied, but didn't quite state, that what happened in Philadelphia was racist.

Woman

So it says, open your guidebook.

Kelefa Sanneh

The first exercise started small-- very small. People were asked to pair up and then list their differences. And even here, at this meticulously planned racial awareness workshop, where everyone knows they're there to talk about race, everyone came prepared to talk about race, it turns out, it's still really hard to get people to talk about race.

Whitney

Do you have children?

Rodney

No kids.

Whitney

No kids. I have three kids.

Rodney

Kids, no kids.

Kelefa Sanneh

These are two people who sit near each other in the office, but never talked till now-- Whitney, who's white, and Rodney, who's black, though somehow, that fact is not getting a lot of play.

Whitney

Do you have siblings?

Rodney

Two older brothers.

Whitney

OK. I have an older brother and an older sister.

Rodney

So we're also three-- sets of three.

Whitney

Yeah, so we're similar.

Rodney

Wait, you're in the middle.

Whitney

I'm the baby.

Rodney

I'm the baby too.

Whitney

OK.

[BOTH LAUGHING]

Did you have a close relationship with your parents?

Kelefa Sanneh

The other groups were like this, too-- I'm a man. I'm a woman. I'm a Leo. I'm a Virgo. I'm from Arizona. I'm from Indiana.

Rodney and Whitney are the only ones who call out their own races. And as soon as they do, they drop it.

Rodney

Like, you're white. I'm not.

[RODNEY LAUGHING]

Whitney

That's true. That feels kind of like a gimme.

Rodney

It kind of is.

Kelefa Sanneh

And, like, of course people, especially white people, are hesitant to talk about race, at least at first. It feels rude to sit down with someone and jump into race, as if that's what's on your mind, as if that's how you see them. But there's a training for that, and we're at it.

So here's how it worked. It was basically broken into three sections. This format was created with help from the Perception Institute, a group that does this kind of anti-bias work. There are three sections of the training. First, acknowledging that we're all different and talking about what it takes to make everyone feel like they belong.

Second, recognizing bias in ourselves. Here's how they defined it-- implicit bias, that's the automatic stereotyping we do. Structural bias, that's the way systems and institutions perpetuate inequality.

Third, Starbucks policies. This was more about the nuts and bolts of actually running a coffee shop. In response to Philadelphia, the company made some changes, like the bathroom policy. Now, everyone can use the bathroom at Starbucks. You don't have to buy anything.

Parts of the training felt generic, like a run-of-the-mill corporate diversity seminar. And some parts were super specific to Starbucks, tackling forms of bias that no one outside Starbucks has ever considered. Here's a scenario from one of the videos.

Man

But we always knew that in our store, about 3:10 PM, we would get a huge rush of high school students right when school would let out. And then we always had the one person on the floor that kind of turned and looked, and was like, oh, great, here it comes, frappuccino happy hour. And so as these kids were in the store, yeah, they're a little bit rambunctious. But you start taking their orders.

You come to realize that it's like you made a huge assumption. Not every drink's a frappuccino. Somebody is ordering a hot chocolate. Somebody is getting a caramel macchiato. Somebody likes passion tea with, like, 10 pumps classic. Like, there's just--

Kelefa Sanneh

I guess that's an example of beverage bias, or maybe frappuccino shaming. There were also videos about baristas assuming patrons were homeless. One was about gender identity. One was about a barista who suspected that a group of black kids was plotting to steal the tip jar. One was about a guy with an accent so thick that the barista couldn't spell his name on his cup.

Woman

--about it, and said, I'm just going to call you Bob. And I wrote Bob on the cup. He had a really thick accent.

Kelefa Sanneh

But other parts were surprisingly ambitious and more provocative, like a video by Stanley Nelson, the documentary filmmaker--

Stanley Nelson

--1960s--

Kelefa Sanneh

--which argued that African-Americans have been systematically excluded from public spaces.

Stanley Nelson

--and allow equal access for all.

Kelefa Sanneh

His film included violent footage from the Civil Rights era.

[GROUP SINGING ON FILM]

Woman

Changing the law doesn't always change reality.

Kelefa Sanneh

And it also included footage of a police officer choking a young black man in a prom tux. That's from just last month. It happened outside a Waffle House in North Carolina.

Woman

No, this is wrong! Oh my god! Look at--

Man

Yeah!

Woman

We just need to recognize that black people are navigating the public space differently than white people--

Kelefa Sanneh

Everyone in the room--

Woman

--that women are navigating--

Kelefa Sanneh

--seemed pretty affected by it.

Woman

--the public space differently than men.

Kelefa Sanneh

A couple of people even had tears in their eyes. And despite the uneasiness at first, there actually was some blunt talk about race in the group discussions, mainly because there was one person there who seemed totally comfortable talking about it. Her name was Adrienne. She's an engineer working on the global supply chain.

She's African-American, grew up in Atlanta, moved to Seattle six years ago to work at Starbucks. And she admitted that for her, Starbucks wasn't always a super comfortable place to be. At one point, everyone broke up into small groups and talked about the company. And she remembered coming into work in the summer of 2016, after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by the police.

Adrienne

That was a big thing for me, because again, you-- I came to work. It was very sad. And nobody said anything. And I'm just like, did any of-- have you guys been watching the news? Two black guys just got killed. And it was just like, ugh. But then that was around the same time that somebody had shot up the gay club in Orlando.

Woman

Yeah, I remember.

Adrienne

And everybody was talking about it. And I was just like, how is this different? But I don't know. So that was hard.

Kelefa Sanneh

When people are discussing racism, or trying to, there's this thing that happens. The black people in the room become the de facto discussion leaders. And of course, that's understandable. White people especially have been taught that when it comes to racism, their most important task is to be good listeners.

Some of that happened in this room, too. One of the questions in the book was about what it was like to come to work with natural hair. OK, so whoever wrote this question was probably hoping there'd be somebody like Adrienne in the room, somebody who could give an answer like this.

Adrienne

--I remember, oh god, first time I had braids and came into work, it was just like, to me, what's the big deal? But then it's like, you have that moment to where I'll tell people who have probably never been this close to somebody with hair braided. You guys got 48 hours. You can touch, ask as many questions as you want.

[EMPLOYEES LAUGHING]

But you know that they're there. The questions are there. And it's kind of a distraction. And I kind of want to just get it over with so we can keep moving.

Man

Did you really do that?

Adrienne

Oh, yeah. We had to have a coffee tasting about my hair, and how long it took, and who did it, and was this person African, and have I done this before, and does it mean anything? And it's just one of those things where it's like, you can choose to get an attitude about it, or you can just say, I'm just going to answer your questions. But you have those moments where, like, oh god, do I really want to do this today?

Rodney

We do always have that-- did anyone else have that hair thing?

Kelefa Sanneh

Rodney jumps in, the other black employee in the room.

Rodney

Like, I can see it in slow motion-- like, a white person coming towards my hair. I can actually feel it.

Whitney

It's the same with pregnant women.

Rodney

And it's the same with pregnant women.

Whitney

Yeah.

Rodney

It's the same thing.

Kelefa Sanneh

That's Whitney saying, it's the same with pregnant women. She's the white coworker who was paired with Rodney in the exercise at the beginning.

Rodney

It's the same thing, yeah.

Whitney

Like, why are you touching me right now--

Rodney

Exactly it. Like, there is this--

Whitney

--stranger?

Rodney

--privacy of space that doesn't exist. Actually, I've felt that with pregnant women.

Whitney

Objectified, yeah.

Rodney

Yeah. But I had this great moment. My--

Kelefa Sanneh

There weren't a lot of moments like this, where people chimed in, added to each other's stories. Generally, everyone listened respectfully but quietly, like when Adrienne asked the group, why do white people care so much about black people's hair? Everyone laughed, but no one gave her an answer. In this group, it seemed like Adrienne was the only person trying to answer questions like that.

The closest they got to really discussing the Philadelphia incident was near the end. They were talking not about Philadelphia, but about something else-- something less charged, but kind of similar, that happened in one of the stores. There was a video of a store manager telling a story that sounded kind of like a confession.

Manager

One day, in my store, I was on the register, and I was helping customers. And a couple of weeks prior to that, my manager had told me about the return policy, that customers needed a receipt, and it had to be within the last 60 days. This older black man came up to the register with a pound of coffee and he asked to return it. And I asked him if he got a receipt, and he said no.

Now, I'd seen other partners in the store accept returns without a receipt in the past. And I'd even done that before, as well. But for some reason, I just really stuck to the policy and leveraged the policy as the reason why I couldn't give him money back or make an exchange without a receipt.

Adrienne

I think what bothers me is that this guy we're talking about with the coffee said he had broken the rules before. For some reason, he didn't do it for an older black man.

Kelefa Sanneh

This is Adrienne again.

Adrienne

That's what bothers me, is that you purposefully was like, there's a black guy that came in here. I'm not going to do it this time. This is the one time I'm going to let the rules work for me. That's the type of stuff that I just don't understand.

It's just like, what in the world did this black person do to you to make you just-- I don't know. It's weird when you grow up, and you wonder, like, why do these people hate me so much? And I literally have done nothing.

Kelefa Sanneh

The training manual had talked about unconscious bias. But Adrienne thought that what this guy did, it sounded more like conscious bias, an intentionally racist act. Whitney, the white operations manager-- she wasn't so sure.

Whitney

I think it can be truly unconscious, though.

Kelefa Sanneh

And she suggested, very politely, that Adrienne might be wrong about this guy-- that maybe this guy didn't realize in the moment what he was doing.

Whitney

Sounds to me like, in retrospect, that person was like, yeah, I don't know why I dug my heels in so hard. But I think about it even as a parent, why-- like, sometimes I'll let certain things be fine. And other times, I like-- like, I'll look back later and go like, why was I so insistent on following the house rule on this one?

I think, probably, his thought process in the moment wasn't, I'm going to say no because this is a black person. But in retrospect, was like, why was that the time that I chose-- hm, well, I don't like what that says about me. That feels gross.

Kelefa Sanneh

Then Rodney joined the conversation, even though he wasn't really sure how he felt.

Rodney

But it is-- for that scenario, I listened to you, and then I listened to you. And it's interesting to hear a black woman's response and a white woman's response, because what I heard from you was that there was intent. And there was knowing decision-- this is a black guy. I'm not going to take this.

And you want to give them the benefit of the doubt. And I'm torn. We don't know. And to be honest, I don't know what we do with that, as a company. I mean, like--

Kelefa Sanneh

Rodney really believes in Starbucks. But at this moment, it felt like he was bumping up against the limits of this corporate initiative, like maybe he had finally encountered a problem that wasn't going to be solved by a friendly, non-judgmental listening session.

In practice, this epic social experiment, this attempt to lead a national conversation about race, this grandiose parting shot from Howard Schultz as he left this company that he built, did it help? It's hard to tell. Starbucks said it wasn't measuring outcomes. But in this one conference room in Seattle, it seemed sincere, maybe even helpful. It felt like Starbucks was trying to give people what they say they want after an incident like this-- accept responsibility, change your corporate culture, fight systemic racism all at once. And if it was kind of unwieldy, kind of incoherent, with a couple of moments of insight, what do you expect? It's a weird assignment.

Rodney

We're done?

Whitney

This is the last page. Want me to read it?

Rodney

Yeah.

Whitney

Today was a start. It was not perfect, because we are all human, and we are all learning.

Kelefa Sanneh

The day of the training, May 29, while the group had been impaneled, the national conversation about race had been proceeding in the real world, although not in a way they would have predicted. While they were watching their videos and filling out their workbooks, Roseanne Barr, unbeknownst to them, was being condemned for a tweet in which she compared an African-American woman to an ape.

So by the time the session in Seattle was finished, Roseanne, not Starbucks, was the biggest story in the country. ABC did what Starbucks didn't do. They fired Roseanne, they issued a brief statement, and they tried to move on as quickly as possible. Starbucks, having hoped to harness one viral moment, had found its careful plans overshadowed by a different one.

On Twitter, people joked about how Roseanne could use some of that Starbucks sensitivity training. The company's big, idealistic vision became a punchline after someone else's racial screw-up. There are going to be more trainings for Starbucks employees over the next year, but the stores aren't going to shut down for them.

Starbucks has gone back to selling coffee. Wherever you are, chances are, there's one nearby. Go there right now if you want. Order a frappuccino. They'll try not to judge you.

Ira Glass

Kelefa Sanneh-- he's a staff writer for The New Yorker. Coming up, the kid who made the other kids in his school wonder if studying is just a waste of time. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Throw the Book at Them

Ira Glass

This American Life-- I'm Ira Glass. Today's program, "Unteachable Moment," stories about people who are supposed to learn some stuff that is really hard to learn, and then what happens instead of learning. We've arrived at Act Two of our show-- Act Two, Throw the Book at Them.

In New Orleans, the district attorney prosecutes a ton of kids as adults. Between 2011 and 2015, for instance, he sent approximately 80% of 15- and 16-year-olds into the adult criminal justice system in cases where he had the option of charging them as juveniles. That's according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

These kids end up at the Orleans Justice Center, which is the jail that any adult in New Orleans Parish is held while waiting for trial. And in part because there are so many kids, and in part because some of them are in jail for so long, waiting for their court dates, they decided to open up a high school in the jail back last year in August. It's a real school, actually part of the New Orleans School District. You can get a real high school diploma there. And it looks like nearly any high school, too.

Teacher

So gentlemen, I'm about to hand you these note cards. These are the--

Ira Glass

In the hallway, there are motivational posters and student essays on the theme of power posted. There's a "Where are they now?" display with former students' pictures and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s mugshot from when he was in jail. But one big difference from regular school? The students are all in orange jumpsuits, stamped "INMATE" in all caps.

Teacher

What do parallel lines tell us?

Student

What you mean, what they tell us?

Teacher

There's some information we can take from parallel lines, that we love about parallel lines.

Ira Glass

At any given time, there are about 50 students enrolled in the school, which is named the Travis Hill School after a local musician who was incarcerated himself as a teenager. I should say that some of the students are 18 or over. So technically, they are adults.

But Travis Hill is different from schools in juvenile detention facilities because these kids, all of them, are charged as adults. They're all facing adult sentences, lots of them really long-- 10, 15, 25, 40 years-- and a lifelong criminal record. And all this raises a very particular problem for this school. Eli Hager, who reports on criminal justice issues at the Marshall Project, has been visiting the school.

Quick warning that we have un-beeped a few words here in the podcast version of the program. A beeped version is at our website. Here's Eli.

Eli Hager

The problem is, being a student and being an inmate are opposites. Everything about adult jail is telling you to be hopeless, that you have no future and no worth, which makes school feel utterly beside the point. Of course, there are always kids in the back row of any classroom asking the question, when will we ever use this in real life? Especially in places where there truly isn't much opportunity, like at the mostly black schools that the kids at Travis Hill all came from.

But it's just more vivid here, the students' sense of the senselessness of school-- more total and more justified. Take this one kid, Ju'ron. He's 17 years old, and he's facing 15 to 104 years in prison for allegedly stealing a cell phone from a woman and firing a gun in the air. He says he didn't do it.

His mom can't afford bail. So until his trial, he's stuck in a place that's not safe. The death rate at the Orleans Justice Center is four times the national average for jails. Ju'ron calls his mom every day, but in-person visits aren't allowed here.

Sometimes, he gets locked in his cell for 23 hours a day and gets his feed up, as the guards call it, through a slot. He goes to sleep on a hard slab. And one day, on his way to art class, he walked past the man charged with killing his father just a few months earlier.

Ju'ron

I was scared. He'd killed a man that looked like me. So I was glad he didn't see me. But I saw him. Now I know to keep an eye out.

Eli Hager

Do you remember how you were feeling when you were sitting in class after having just seen that person?

Ju'ron

I was thinking, just thinking. I wasn't going nowhere-- in my head, no, no, no. I was like, am I tripping? I gotta get the fuck out of here. I can't do this no more. There's all type of stuff coming with jail, man. I can't do it.

School's not helping me. I mean, they're doing their thing. They're trying to help. They're trying hard. You know, I give school their prop, but it's not helping. What, I'm gonna face that by using math? Really?

Eli Hager

So last summer, the experiment began at Orleans Justice Center. Could a violent adult jail contain an aspirational school? Every day, its students, all of whom are black, would grapple with whether they're defined by their classroom or their cell.

In the first year of Travis Hill's existence, there were two moments in particular that illustrated how the kids there deal with this bewildering code switch-- inmate to student, student to inmate. The first was this story that kept coming up in almost every interview I did. It was about this kid, Quincy, also 17 years old-- the kind of legendary kid who everyone at a high school still talks about, even though he's no longer there. Ju'ron lived on the same tier of the jail with him.

Ju'ron

Everybody knew Quincy, you know? Quincy, he was just that person. He was just the type of dude, when you come on the tier, he'll try to talk to you, try to jose with you.

Eli Hager

Jose is slang in Louisiana. It sort of means joke, like mess around. Though Quincy didn't really do much school work himself, he'd stand up in class and imitate motivational speakers from YouTube, telling the other kids to do their work. That kind of thing left a big impression on the staff.

Teacher 1

He was a calm and cool kid.

Teacher 2

He was very, very intelligent. Very intelligent. Very, very intelligent-- just, sorry, I had to stress that.

Teacher 3

Well, he just had a charisma about him where he's like, you know?

Teacher 1

He was a leader of the tier.

Teacher 2

If somebody new comes on the unit, somebody wants to go pick on this person or that, Quincy may say, hey, nah, leave that man alone. That man chilling.

Eli Hager

Quincy wasn't at the jail anymore by the time I visited, so you're not going to hear from him. Part of the reason everyone knew him so well was that he'd been waiting behind bars for two years to get a trial. When he was 15, he was charged as an adult with attempted murder for shooting a gun at state troopers in an unmarked car, along with a group of other teens.

Every time he had a court date, he got a ride over to the courthouse in a van. The older kids have to take a school bus, of all vehicles, even though it's only like 500 feet away from the jail. He'd wait in the van in shackles to be called into the courtroom, only to have his case continued again. And then he'd just roll back to school and try to do trigonometry, or whatever.

Kenneth Dorsey

Quincy was in a situation with his case that kept getting put off, and put off, and put off, and put off.

Eli Hager

This is Travis Hill's dean of students, Kenneth Dorsey.

Kenneth Dorsey

So there's a lot of-- he wasn't interested in doing school. He came, he did a little bit, but then he's off doing something else mentally. And I got to believe it has to do with the fact of what the case was doing to him.

Eli Hager

The day that Quincy finally got to stand in front of a judge was a major event for the entire student body. There had been so much buildup. And in the group claustrophobia of a school in jail, one student's court date feels like everybody's court date. Ju'ron told me and my producer, Sean Cole, what it was like on the juvenile tier beforehand.

Ju'ron

Everybody, we all got in a circle. We were praying he got good news, you know?

Sean Cole

You got in a circle and prayed?

Ju'ron

Yeah, we always do that.

Eli Hager

Every time somebody has a big court situation coming up, you do that?

Ju'ron

Yeah, we pray. They pray. I just be standing by and watching. But at the time, I was praying with them. So he was like, man, I'm going home tomorrow.

It was like, yeah, you going home tomorrow. We were not trying to jinx it. Then he came back, threw his food on the table.

Eli Hager

Quincy had come back from court and just threw his food on the table. They were all at lunch.

Ju'ron

I was like, what happened, bro? He was like, I got fucking 25 years. Just like, damn. And everybody just started crying.

Eli Hager

25 years for someone charged at 15 years old. It was the longest sentence handed down in Travis Hill's short history.

Eli Hager

And what was your first class after that?

Ju'ron

Art.

Eli Hager

Art.

Ju'ron

And everybody was just sad, you know? Nobody wasn't doing no work. Everybody had their head down, just thinking, listening to music about sentencing, you know, just to relate to.

Eli Hager

Music about sentencing?

Ju'ron

Music about jail and getting sentenced, people turning their back on you, and all that. It's just music about that. That's what we like to listen to, because we can relate.

Sean Cole

Which songs were you listening to in that class?

Ju'ron

We was listening to YFN Lucci, "Turn They Back On Me."

[MUSIC - YFN LUCCI, "TURN THEY BACK"]

Eli Hager

This is another student, Marlin.

Marlin

Yeah, 'cause the teachers here had put on this song by YFN Lucci, "Turn Your Back." And when we heard that, the whole class just broke down in tears with him. Like, we just were broke down for that whole class period, just crying.

I was crying like a babe. And I just felt his pain, like-- yeah, I felt his pain.

Yfn Lucci

Let me know if you feel my pain, yeah.

Ju'ron

Listening to the song--

Eli Hager

Ju'ron again.

Ju'ron

--just zoning out, not listening to nothing the teacher had to say. Nobody was listening to her. It was just a sad moment for our juvenile tier.

Sean Cole

Was she trying to teach the class anyway?

Ju'ron

Yeah, she was trying to teach, you know? Same shit, trying to get our mind off it. But how can get your mind off of something like that?

Eli Hager

What about fifth period that day? What did you have next?

Ju'ron

Science, same thing.

Eli Hager

Same thing? You had science, and she was trying to teach also?

Ju'ron

It was like that until he went to DCI that Tuesday.

Eli Hager

DCI is the Dixon Correctional Institute. In the days before Quincy got sent off, even though this goes against the whole point of their school, the teachers decided that he was facing too bleak a future to try to get him to study. So they just let him listen to music, and sat and had conversations with him, talking about how he'd be as old as they are when he got out.

Ju'ron

It felt like to see that they would give a young person our age 25 years, you think they're really going to give a fuck about us, being the same age? Then we're black. They don't got no white people on our tier.

It just looked like we was out for failure. Everybody makes mistakes. That's why I was depressed. I felt like nobody was safe.

Eli Hager

And you felt like they were basically saying that his life didn't have any worth, because they were just-- he was only 17 years old, and they were giving him 25 years. Is that kind of what it felt like?

Ju'ron

I think so. Yeah, basically.

Eli Hager

But you're saying that his life did have a lot of worth.

Ju'ron

Yeah, his life had a lot of worth.

Eli Hager

Why does his life and your life have worth?

Ju'ron

Because we're young. We ain't even turned 18 yet. We have still a lot of growing to do. We got changes we can make, you know? Stuff that we can do to change our life, and all that. But once you mess up for once, it's going to cost you the rest of your life. I ain't saying he got life in jail, but 25 years, that's a lot. That's more than a lot.

After that, I don't know. That really killed me. When Quincy got sent 25 years, that killed my hopes of getting out.

Eli Hager

A lot of the other kids felt the same way. The math teacher, Ms. Burr, and the other teachers, say that even months later, their students still haven't fully come to terms with Quincy's departure. They still bring him up.

Ms. Burr

Literally, I think on Monday, they asked about him, and brought him up, and talked about him.

Eli Hager

And what did they say to you?

Ms. Burr

What they said was, well, what if I got time like Quincy? What's the point of this education if I'm getting time like him? Then this is a waste of my time. There's no point, because in 25 years-- that's 25 years. I'm not using this.

And so then I brought up the way that Quincy left, and how he was like, I know education is important. I want to pursue my education. And they were like, wait, really? He said that? And I was like, yeah, he said that.

Eli Hager

I was at the jail visiting around the time Quincy and another student were sentenced. And I sat in on this one science class where their friends were downright despondent. One was walking around the room, groaning and knocking his head against the door.

The teacher was trying to teach a lesson about the properties of living organisms. A living organism needs light, she said, and energy. A living organism needs to live within a community. A living organism responds to stimuli or messages from the environment around it. A living organism has the capacity to grow.

When Quincy was shipped upstate, it was probably the lowest moment for the kids. Their most hopeful moment came just a month later. It had to do with another student who nearly everyone at the school talked about and another first at Travis Hill, but of a very different kind.

It was the first graduation-- a graduation ceremony for one, one student. A whole ceremony was held for him. The graduate was a kid named Tristion. But people don't call him Tristion.

Tristion

I have everybody call me Fireman.

Eli Hager

OK.

Tristion

You know, jail give you nicknames. Like, call me Fireman. That's my childhood dream.

Eli Hager

Oh.

Tristion

So I think it was in school, you know, we had to sing a song, "Firetrucks are Red," R-E-D. And then I look. I'm liking it. I'm liking what it's looking like.

Then every Halloween, from young to a certain age limit, I dressed as a firefighter.

Eli Hager

You were a fireman every single Halloween?

Tristion

Every single Halloween.

Eli Hager

That's good. You're consistent.

Tristion has the word "fireman" written in Sharpie on the collar of his orange jumpsuit and down its leg. In addition to fighting fires, he wants to start a storm evacuation business. He grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward. And like most of the kids at Travis Hill, he's one of the babies of Hurricane Katrina.

Like Ju'ron, he fled to Texas until the water went down. He says his high school class was going to be the first to graduate from a brand new school building that had just been built. But then he came to jail.

When Tristion was a juvenile, he coerced underage girls online to send him naked photos. He says he knew it was wrong when he was doing it and that he stopped about a year before he was arrested, at age 18. Tristion is not at all the typical student at Travis Hill. He came to jail before the school existed and was already studying to get his GED, already motivated.

Tristion

But then Travis Hill came along. Woo! It was a big game changer. We had classes-- like, real periods. The transitioning, the time up, time to switch and stuff, really gave me that feeling, like I was really in school. I'm like, man, I think I'm going to love this.

Eli Hager

Tristion said school was like having a huge breakfast waiting for him in the morning, with eggs, and grits, and biscuits, and sausage, and orange juice. Meanwhile, his actual breakfast the first morning of school was cereal. It was cereal the next morning, too, and the next.

Jail is dispiriting like that, demotivating. And Tristion was bent on staying motivated. So instead of fixating on being in jail, he takes another approach.

Tristion

I try to put that "I'm in a jail facility" to the side.

Eli Hager

How do you do that?

Tristion

I do it mentally, of course. I look, and I just picture myself in a real class setting. Even though I have to go back to the tier, I don't look at going back to the tier as going home. I look at going back to the tier as, like, you know, just going to this park.

Sean Cole

A park-- like a city park?

Tristion

Yes, like a city park. You're around a bunch of people you don't really know. You don't know why they're there. But you just know you're surrounded by a bunch of random people.

And another thing I programmed in my head, because I want to go to the military also-- I said, by us having all of the same color on, this is boot camp. This is training. This is a training facility.

It's not a jail facility. This is a training facility. This is training me to handle being away from family and to be able to better myself. And another way to look at it, if that don't work, I look at it like a hurricane shelter.

Eli Hager

A hurricane shelter?

Tristion

A hurricane shelter. There's been a bad storm. Everybody's been separated from their people. We're all around, like I said, a bunch of people that you do not know. But you have to survive, and they have the-- they provide the food for you. They come check on you, make sure you follow the rules. Sounds what a hurricane shelter is to me.

Eli Hager

This is the way that Tristion deals with going to school in jail-- by pretending he's not in jail. Some of the other students engage in a similar kind of useful delusion, especially during what one teacher calls the honeymoon phase of jail, when the kids are still telling themselves, and anyone who will listen, that they're getting out tomorrow or next week, against all evidence to the contrary.

The school does it, too, by having intentionally condensed units and semesters, with award ceremonies at the end of each one, to at least give the students a feeling of accomplishment or completion.

Eli Hager

Do you ever get-- do you ever get really down? I mean, it seems like you're very positive. Do you ever get real down?

Tristion

I kid you not, only for one minute. I said, man, this ain't no boot camp. This isn't a hurricane-- this is a real jail. Man. But I say, you know what?

And I say this to myself all the time-- I'll be talking to myself and I'll be like, jail is not a bad place. Jail is a place to get you to get right.

Eli Hager

Do you ever think, wait, this isn't actually a school, this is a jail?

Tristion

This is always a school. The only difference is, you have a deputy just standing there, just watching you. And I'm not used to being watched like that. But like I say, the boot camp-- that's my ranking officer. He's making it so I do everything right, make it so I don't mess up, make it so I do this right, just in case I have to go into combat.

Eli Hager

Tristion is obviously a pretty enthusiastic guy in general. But when I asked him about his graduation, he talked for seven minutes straight--

Tristion

Ooh. Man, big day.

Eli Hager

--not just about the event itself, but the moments leading up to it, acting out every part like he was in a one-man show, from getting ready in the morning--

Tristion

Lotion, baby powder, brushing my teeth twice, brushing my hair, smelling good.

Eli Hager

--to the lunch break that day, hours before the ceremony.

Tristion

I eat my food. Let me see, did I eat my food? I did not eat my food, because what we had was not so good. So I just ate the cookies. I sent it back out-- blech, take it.

Eli Hager

And he didn't have to do any fantasizing at all when it came to the ceremony itself. It was the real deal, with balloons, speeches. His family was there. All of his classmates were in attendance. And unlike them, instead of orange, Tristion was decked out in a dark green cap and gown.

Tristion

We tried to figure out, which side does the tassel go on? And here we go.

[HUMMING "POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE"]

And just that feeling of everybody looking, smiling. I'm just-- got my little military walk going on.

Sean Cole

You're saluting?

Tristion

Saluting. I see my grandfather and my mother in the front. And I'm just like, man, this is really big. I get up and do my speech.

All right, all right. This selection I selected is about mistakes and consequences, and reads as follows. "While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of these actions. Consequences are governed by natural law. They are out in the circle of--"

I glance at my mom. I see the little teardrop right here. She tried to wipe it, but I caught it before she wiped it. I'm like, ah, I seen you. I thought I was going to have-- I thought I was going to cry, which I did later on. My fellow classmates, they were like, man, that's big, son. I want to graduate now.

Eli Hager

Ms. Burr, the math teacher, said she heard the same thing from the students.

Ms. Burr

It was just like, wait, I can actually get a diploma in here. Like, that's a real thing. And so I think sometimes they think we're just saying stuff. And so seeing those moments, they're just like, wow, this actually is a real place.

Eli Hager

It's almost like they--

It took this kid, who lives in an imaginary version of jail, to make the school inside of the jail feel real. But after Tristion's graduation, he had to go back to his cell, diploma in hand. His family had gone home.

Tristion

I went back to the dorm. It came, that one minute. Came that one minute of sadness-- like, the feeling of them leaving, and I'm not able to leave with them or follow right behind them. That really took a little chunk out of me. I'm like-- I'm so used to my mama saying, follow me.

And for them to walk out the door, that's the last time I'm seeing them until I get out. And I know I can't walk behind them. That was big. And I'm laying down in my bed. I'm like, here I am, back on the tier, graduated.

I say, no, I'm not about to do this. I'm not going to do this. I graduated. I'm going to be home soon.

Eli Hager

Tristion was sentenced the very next day after his graduation. Last year, he'd asked the court to delay his sentencing until he finished his degree. Now he's at another facility and will be incarcerated until 2021, according to the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

One of Travis Hill's staff members, Alexi Gaddis, told the students during a, quote unquote, "life skills" class this spring, that it's already not easy for human beings to dream. It's already a vulnerable thing to believe in yourself, given all the ways the world can crush that. Getting these particular kids to give dreaming another chance, absurd as it can feel in some ways, given what this country thinks of them-- in the end, that's the core curriculum of this school.

Ira Glass

Eli Hager-- he's a reporter for the Marshall Project. Since his visit to the Travis Hill school, two more students have graduated in the jail. One of them said seeing Tristion graduate really inspired him. You can read a print version of Eli's story on the Marshall Project's website, MarshallProject.org.

Act Three: Those Who Can’t Play

Ira Glass

Act Three, Those Who Can't Play. So our program today is about people trying to learn something it is just hard to learn. And with the World Cup coming next week, I will point out, it's really hard to learn to be a great soccer player.

Daniel Alarcon, the executive producer and host of Radio Ambulante, has this story about his dad. Growing up in Peru, Daniel's dad, Renato, played soccer around the neighborhood, like all the kids did. But he was never anything special.

Daniel Alarcon

So it was certain, like, he was never thought of as being an athlete.

Ira Glass

What he was thought of, from a young age, was being beyond unusually bright.

Daniel Alarcon

You know, when I've gone back, I was introduced as, oh, this is Renato's son. And then just heard, just, oh, your dad was so smart. Your dad was so smart. When he was a kid, he won this-- he was, like, 14. He won this national quiz show for kids on TV--

Ira Glass

Oh, wow.

Daniel Alarcon

--and flew from the city where he lived in, flew to Lima. He was the only kid from the provinces who was a finalist, only kid from a public school, front page of the newspaper.

Ira Glass

He was an incredibly verbal kid, loved poetry and words, great talker. But again-- soccer?

Daniel Alarcon

There's two things that happen when you aren't one of the better players. They put you in goal, to be a goalkeeper. Maybe, they might make you ref, but that's like really low, you know?

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Daniel Alarcon

But my dad turned that around and wasn't goalie or ref. And I'm sure he played. I'm not saying that he didn't play. But he started calling the neighborhood games.

Ira Glass

Wait, wait. So he was calling the games. Did he have gear?

Daniel Alarcon

He had a microphone and a little speaker.

Ira Glass

He could make his voice louder--

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, he could make his voice louder

Ira Glass

--when he's outside.

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, yeah.

Ira Glass

And so basically, he's just taking equipment down and he's announcing kids' actual games as they're playing?

Daniel Alarcon

Yes.

Ira Glass

Like, kids he knows?

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, the kids in his neighborhood.

Ira Glass

I would just imagine, if I were a kid playing in that game, to have somebody calling the game, and I could hear them calling the game as I was doing it, it would make me so much more competitive. You know what I mean? It makes it so much more epic.

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, absolutely. My picture of it is, like, how glamorous. Are you kidding me? Like, suddenly, their game is elevated. And it's not just a neighborhood game. Now it's like, look, this is just like we're on the radio, which is just like-- that's the same they do for the World Cup.

Ira Glass

Daniel's dad would also make up games-- like, whole professional games. Like, all the players, both sides, all the action-- starting, Daniel says, when he was 10 or 11. He would do it just for himself, as a thing to do, though the whole family knew he could do this.

Daniel Alarcon

And if, for example, on a Sunday afternoon, after everyone's had lunch, my father would start to be the entertainment for the adults. Hey, Renato, can you make up a game for us? Make it a good one. And he would just describe a game. And it's a completely made-up game, but when a goal would be scored, inevitably, the adults would cheer. And like, that was great. That was a great game. And he got really good at this.

Eventually, he was-- he was-- one of my great uncles had a little theater in a town called Mollendo on the beach-- a beach town in southern Peru. And they were doing a night of arts and poetry, or whatever-- a talent show, essentially. And my great uncle, Juan Castor, signed up my dad and was like, you're going to do it just like you do for us.

Ira Glass

Around the house?

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, on Sunday afternoons. And I think, at that point, he was like 12 or 13. He goes out on stage, 300 people in the theater. And he's nervous. But what he does is essentially make up a game. So Melgar is the club from Arequipa.

Ira Glass

They're the local favorite from the province. And in this game that he made up on stage, they played the big fancy team from the capital, Lima.

Daniel Alarcon

Universitario, La "U."

Ira Glass

They're like the Yankees.

Daniel Alarcon

They're like the Yankees, yeah. We don't like them. In his telling of it, everyone plays the game of their life, you know? Everyone does it exactly right, as if controlled by a marionette-- which of course, they were, right?

Ira Glass

Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Alarcon

I can just-- I find it very easy to believe that people could have been really moved by the sport. This wasn't like a fake game. It was the game.

Ira Glass

And so in his game, the hometown team gets it up to the edge and scores.

Daniel Alarcon

Yes. Melgar scores. People exploded, you know? Like you were cheering something that had actually happened. And the detail that he tells me that I'm always struck by is that when the lights came off and he went off stage, his uncle was crying, just weeping, with joy and with pride.

Ira Glass

There's a video of you online with your dad on stage. And you tell this story. And then your dad comes up on stage. And then he calls a game.

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah. He hadn't done this in like 50 years. But we threw a jersey on him. And he took the mic.

Ira Glass

And you threw some stadium sound underneath for realism.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Ira Glass

What's he saying?

Daniel Alarcon

So he's at minute 40, I believe he said. A Peruvian team against a Brazilian team, and the Brazilian team is bringing the ball out of the back.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Daniel Alarcon

Nilton Santos, who was a Brazilian defender, kicking it out towards the right.

Ira Glass

So these are teams from the '50s?

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Daniel Alarcon

Oh, OK. So [? Irelia ?] was a midfielder, a Peruvian midfielder. He intercepts the ball here. So this is where things start shifting.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Daniel Alarcon

So [? Irelia ?] intercepts the ball and passes towards the right. This is actually a stroke of genius that's coming up.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Daniel Alarcon

Short pass to [? Navarrete. ?] He passes to [INAUDIBLE]. Chino Rivera heads it. OK, so this is the part where I was like, Dad, you're really playing with our emotions here.

The ball-- in his telling, the ball hits the post. So Chino Rivera heads the ball, and it hits off the post.

Ira Glass

Right, so it bounces back out.

Daniel Alarcon

Right.

Renato

[SPEAKING SPANISH]

Daniel Alarcon

Back in the field, [? Terry-- ?] [? Terry ?] scores.

Renato

Goal!

Ira Glass

People are so excited.

Renato

Goal!

Daniel Alarcon

Giant chills, man. [SPANISH]

Renato

Peru, uno. Brazil, zero.

Ira Glass

I feel excited.

Daniel Alarcon

That's great. That's great. See? It works.

Ira Glass

It's funny to think that if he had actually been great at soccer, that moment on stage never would have happened.

Daniel Alarcon

Right, right. Yeah, yeah. I mean, they might have been singing songs about him, you know?

Ira Glass

Oh, somebody else would be.

Daniel Alarcon

Yeah, some other kid would have been on stage, and--

Ira Glass

Yeah.

Ira Glass

Daniel Alarcon-- he first told this story on his show, Radio Ambulante.

Credits

Common

Close your eyes for a moment. Yes, close them.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.