* Belief: a lesson from my friend

“I am an A student.”  My friend told herself that after failing her freshman year in college.  She never studied and wasn’t sure what “A students” did.  She asked a med student who was frequently studying, one who appeared quite organized with binders and notebooks.  That kind med student shared her studying routine with my friend, who went on to earn straight A’s.  Teachers remarked that no one else had ever earned 100% on their tests. The college dean requested a meeting with my friend to ask her how she had transformed her grades.

My friend told me that she believed she was an A student.  Even while she still had D’s and F’s, she simply KNEW she was an A student.  Her past grades didn’t define her.  “There was no F hanging over my head,” she told me.

How was my brilliant friend transformed?  To me, the power of belief, the power of faith, the power of encouragement, and the power of mentoring all played a crucial role in her success.  Today, this friend and teacher continues to share her wisdom and to mentor others, including me.

Successful teachers believe in their kids.  They help kids believe in themselves.  Successful and ethical teachers do not look at black kids and think, “Oh well, I’ll do what I can, but….”  Neither do they promote a false sense of “You can be anything you want!”  I don’t think any of us can be whatever we want, even if we are very smart.  My dearest teaching widower would agree that I can’t be an accountant, administrator, or statistician.  BUT could most kiddos be “A students?”  Absolutely.  

To my dearest friend, thank you for teaching me more than I can possibly express.

C and I

More tomorrow on another lesson she taught me.

* Independence Day by Frederick Douglass, Part 2

The fiery speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852, should have melted the hearts and minds of his listeners.  What hardness could stand before the flame of Douglass’ words?  I urge you to read the speech in its entirety; it is a masterpiece of faith in the face of unimaginable circumstances.  His efforts were not in vain.  By 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

Why is Douglass’ speech relevant today?  I believe our nation remains in the shadows of slavery, of its declared message that blacks were not human, not capable of learning.  (Don’t you wonder why whites were so determined that slaves not learn to read or write?)  Douglass was frequently accused of not authoring his many works because it was outside the white experience that blacks would perform exceptionally.  Today, we find select charter schools with low income students far outperforming most public schools.  Why?  We know what to do: provide high expectations, qualified teachers, a growth mindset, and small class size.

Why are we still waiting for nationwide success of all our children?  Do we really believe that black kids can succeed?  Do black kids believe they can succeed?  Black Stanford undergrads scored measurably worse on tests when asked to record their race or told that the test measured intellectual ability.  We can do better.  We must do better because we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

student 1

* Independence Day by Frederick Douglass, part 1

Frederick_Douglass_portrait.jpg

Photo from Wikipedia

Fellow Americans, we enjoyed our fireworks spectacles, our Star-Spangled Banners, and our cookouts.  Many of us looked back with pride to those early days in our country’s history, to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

On July 5, 1852, 76 years after our nation declared its independence, Frederick Douglass spoke passionately about the bravery and greatness of America’s founding fathers.  Douglass addressed a prestigious audience, including president of the United States.  With a fluency and poetry rivaling that of Shakespeare, Douglass unleashed a passionate tirade against slavery which continues to mock our country’s history of “freedom for all.”  Douglass also condemned the church of that time for grossly misinterpreting scripture to support the evils of slavery.

In his words:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 
I hate the legacy of slavery in this country.  More tomorrow.

* Color your world BLUE, marred by racism

Caution: This post may cause you to gag.

Here is a beautiful blue sky in Virginia, marred by a Confederate flag.  No, I don’t think that this flag represents anything but hatred and shame, as in “Shame on you for flying a flag like this!”  If anyone doubts that racism is alive and well, and I’d guess only white folks might feel that way, here is more proof that we are not living the dream.

blue with flag.JPG

Thanks to Jennifer Nicole Wells for her Color Your World challenge.  Let’s color our world with LOVE.

* Martin Luther King, Jr, man of faith

Today we celebrate the life of a great man of faith.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remains an inspiration, a model of how to face injustice and hatred.  He guided my steps as a youngster in the civil rights movement, but it wasn’t until years later that I actually entered the kingdom of love he espoused.  How much more I treasure his words, now that I share his faith.

In his words:  “Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies (from Loving Your Enemies).”

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”

Freedom

Dr. King knew that he was on a perilous journey, but he he did not count the cost.  In his words, “A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”  We are all reaping the reward of his life’s costly mission.  Love, forgive, and fight for justice.

* If We Were Having Coffee: Just One Thing on My Mind Today

On race: Nerd in the Brain’s post is full of hope for the next generation, along with some practical suggestions for reform and changed hearts and minds.

Nerd in the Brain

*I originally stumbled across this concept at Part Time Monster, and I love, love, love the idea of having a chatty post once a week. I do hope you enjoy my ramblings.*  Weekend Coffee Share Weekly Pic - Dinos and Coffee | This Nerd's Life

If we were having coffee…

I would tell you that, as most Americans do right now (I hope), I have a lot on my mind. Yesterday, I “should” have popped a “Friday Fun” post on the blog, but I wasn’t feeling fun. I was feeling sad and angry…and contemplative. Contemplative about my role and place in systemic racism and the horrifying violence that’s resulting from it. Contemplative about the appropriate place for my voice. Contemplative about the actions I can do that will have an effect.

And here’s what I came up with:

The library. (Some of you probably don’t find that shocking coming from me.) Yes, the library. I truly believe that education is fundamental to…

View original post 574 more words

* Forgiveness and race

I was moved by an opinion column in today’s Chapel Hill News.  Anita Woodley‘s column focuses on forgiveness.  Forgiving those who have hurt her with racist remarks and forgiving herself for “feeling that [she] had to prove” that she belongs, that she’s “entitled to be somewhere.”  Woodley describes her experience at a workshop, “Race and Grace: Changing the Race Dance” where she was the only person of color in a group of about 20 folks.  She endured horrific stories, resorting to an emotional disconnect to protect herself.

The following day, Woodley started a two month self-esteem support group for women, where once again, she heard the N-word.  In this case, a woman actually tried to convince Woodley that the N-word is no big deal.  After all, that woman had been called “whitey.”  Woodley describes the emotional turmoil that eventually led her to forgive that woman, and in the process, to see herself as she is: courageous, loving, and strong.

I’ve been a part of these conversations for years.  It’s discouraging that whites still diminish the black experience in this country.  I see the legacy of slavery, I see undereducated black kids, I see a class system with widening chasms.  Woodley’s advice is sound.  Forgiveness is one place to start.  Playing an active role in changing hearts and minds is another.  We all lose when a single child’s potential is lost.

black woman

* Q is for Quotations

Friends for Freedom

“Friends For Freedom: The Story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass” provides a fascinating account of an unlikely friendship lasting over 45 years.  The author, Susan Slade, spent three years researching their little-known relationship.  She unearthed their letters to one another and discovered that Frederick delivered the eulogy for Susan’s father.  They also gave countless speeches together.

This excellent book portrays the passion and determination of Susan and Frederick in the face of  overwhelming odds.  They faced angry mobs and were coated with rotten eggs as they defied the cultural norms of that time.  Once the Fifteenth Amendment provided blacks- but not women- the right to vote, Susan and Frederick’s publically debated this issue.  Douglass argued, “With us, the issue is a matter of life and death.”

Here are some other powerful quotes from these good friends:

Susan- Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.    The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.     The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball – the further I am rolled the more I gain.    Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputations… can never effect a reform.

Frederick-  Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.      The soul that is within me no man can degrade.      No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.

 

* B is being a black boy

black boy.JPG

When my teaching widower and I bought this figure (above), the sales clerk used every white code she could think of to help us “recognize” the boy’s race.  Why would a white couple buy black artwork?  I wanted him because he looks like so many kids I’ve taught and loved.

I often experience great heartache when I watch young black boys in kindergarten.  They are so excited about school, about pleasing their teachers and making friends.  Their eyes are bright with happiness.  They are eager to learn.  These same boys, a few years later, are sitting in the office, assigned a space next to the teacher, or isolated at a desk far from their peers.  They are doing poorly academically.  They are referred to special education.  They are the behavior problems in the school.  I am describing experiences I’ve seen in a wealthy school district, where “all kids can learn” is the mantra.

Yes, we live in a segregated society where more black men are in prison than in college.  But let’s go back to kindergarten.  Even before they’ve met these kids, many teachers have looked at the names on their roster and shown colleagues how many Daquans and Tremains they’ll have to manage.  From the first day, while much of the class is frisky in line, I have heard those same names reprimanded at a rate which far exceeds that of the white boys.  The frisky white boys may be ignored, but Daquan is on everyone’s radar.  All the time.  Far beyond kindergarten.

I believe the most important factor in a classroom is the emotional tone- teacher acceptance and nurturing.  Do you think black boys feel they belong?  After eating breakfast at school with other kids of color, they enter a classroom which is mostly white, with mostly white adults.  (Usually, the only black males they see are custodians.)  Teacher expectations are low, couched in terms of “low income” and “poor language skills.”  Even though specific teaching methods can level the playing field, I believe it’s that not-so-invisible exclusion, the not-so-invisible low bar, which extinguishes that sparkle in black boys’ eyes and hearts.

 

 

* The struggle continues

I was impressed by Tim White’s recent editorial in the Fayetteville Observer.  The focus of his article is Fayetteville’s current struggle over their city seal, which prominently features Market House.  Market House, a National Landmark built in 1832, housed the town hall on its second floor while “meat and produce and other goods were sold beneath.”  “Other goods” included people.  Slaves.  In “Our dramatic failure of empathy,” White outlines the subtle and not-so-subtle racism we still promulgate.  As he notes, “The dye of segregated thinking is all over [the current debate on the seal’s content].”

Here’s a look at Fayetteville’s seal.  Its central feature is Market House, which remains a symbol of slavery for many Fayetteville citizens.

Fayetteville 2

Image from wncn.com

Even Fayetteville’s hometown song, played while city hall callers waited on hold (and is no longer used), includes references to cotton and Market House.  I checked out Visit NC, where this statement caught my attention: “Occasionally slaves were sold at Market Square and the vast majority of these sales were as a result of indebtedness or estate liquidation.”  I take that to mean that it was OK to sell slaves if you were losing money.

Tim White asks some hard questions.  “So why can’t we white folks understand that for many of our black neighbors, using the Market House on our city logo is like slapping them in the face?”  He asks why we don’t see the “insulting, paternalistic, rude and-just maybe- unconsciously racist” basis of denial.  Finally, to look at this strictly from a economic point of view, White asks why a business would “doggedly insist on using a logo that is knew caused pain and even revulsion in at least a quarter, maybe more, of its customers.”

I appreciate White’s heartfelt and well-written attempt to breathe truth and compassion into this debate.  He builds his case on historical data, research on hidden biases (such as The Implicit Assumption Test), and his own interviews with people whose relatives were sold at the Market House.  He even appeals to our capitalistic bottom line.

Fayetteville is not unique in its struggle.  In every city and state, in every classroom and boardroom, we are confronted with the poisoned fruit of slavery.  As overwhelming as it feels, let us do for one what we want to do for all.  (Thank you, Kendrick Vinar.)   As White concludes, “Let’s not fail.”