When I was in second grade we moved from Newark, Ohio to “a special place” called Darby Estates in Galloway, Ohio. I remember that the house we bought had horrible pea green and blue carpet with a gold lame mirror in the foyer. There was a great swing set in our yard, and a neighbor named Tony who let me play with his Star Wars and He-Man action figures. My best friend Tracey lived three doors down and was with me the night a cross was burned on our fence; she was Hawaiian and lived with her single mom.
and last time that I was in a class or work environment with three people having my same name. It was not, however the last time I was the only person of color in any space, school or otherwise. Looking back through my elementary school years, I have come to realize that Brown Elementary was the birthplace of my consciousness, advocacy, and activism. The first time
I was called out for the color of skin, my internal response was that of wanting to make a correction; my skin was brown
and I could not ascertain why the word “Blackie” would be hurled my way. While I remember Todd getting into some type of trouble, the bigger and lasting impact was my personal awakening to the fact that I was different than all of my schoolmates. Not different as in unique, but different as in unable to comfortably blend in. For the years following, I spent significant amounts of time in the mirror trying to make my lips look just a little smaller and my hair stretch a little straighter.
And then there was Stacy, my friend whose family had an awesome pool in their backyard. She was one of the only other girls in my grade who was at least my height, if not slightly taller. Sometimes the group of girls I considered my friends were mean to her. They left her out of activities and would pass notes with jokes made at her expense. It is because of the mean girls and my desire for everyone to feel included, that my innate sense of fairness came alive.
These memories resurface as my own children continue to grow and independently navigate the world. As their playground broadens, so does the scope of hatred and discrimination. Tomorrow morning our son will enter the doors of middle school; and for the first time will not have the benefit of attending his moderate-sized neighborhood school, where literally every teacher and school personnel knew his name. His gentle and easily distracted heart will have to switch classes and navigate unfamiliar social circles and understand new norms. Our daughter, who remains in elementary school, will be attending a
new school herself as she was accepted into the gifted and talented program. She had the option of staying at her previous school, however after interviewing programs, she bravely and boldly chose to leave her comfort behind and travel a
At a time when I thought I would be nervous and scared for their new adventures, I find myself pleasantly calm and confident. There is something magical in watching another’s history being formed. You see moments you know they’ll never forget and as a parent/caregiver, are intimately involved in their missteps and life lessons. While I don’t wish any of my own heartbreak on my children, I do hope they in some way come to know their own strength and measure of resilience.
I am who I am today because of the hard days and times I was forced to find my own power. If not for the opportunities to stand up and use my voice, I may have never known that it does indeed exist.
“We are powerful because we have survived…”
~ Audre Lorde