I’ve put a lot of thought into writing this post. But I’ve decided I must, if for no other reason than for my children to someday understand that the world I grew up in was not like the world they live in today.
For starters, I grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. I love my hometown and my home state, but the way I grew up was much different than most of my Texas friends and almost unimaginable to my husband. You see, he grew up with no more than 5 black students in his Minnesota high school….which was the largest high school in the state. And here in Texas, there are neighborhood schools….not the cross city busing that I was used to for the purposes of integration.
It wasn’t until I was 18 years old and went to Baylor University that I learned that my worldview was very different than many others. There was only one black student in any of my classes. She was beautiful and was in my tennis class. I called my dad and said…. “where are all the other black people?” I don’t remember his exact words but I remember something being said about public vs private schools having different ratios and how my upbringing was different than others.
Shocking to me. Shocking. Still to this day.
It took me years…well after my oldest started kindergarten to realize that not all public schools were more than 50 or 60% black.
But the diversity I encountered made me the person I am today. The diversity I encountered taught me a lot about the world, some good, some not so good.
On my first day at Little Rock Central High School (think Crisis at Central High), Dan Rather was in our hallway with a microphone interviewing students on what it was like to walk into school on the 25th anniversary of the school being integrated. 25 years…that was it.
I went to the assembly where the Little Rock 9 sat on the stage and shared how it felt to not be allowed to walk in the door. And I couldn’t imagine. (By the way, those same 9 were invited to sit in the Presidential box during the Inauguration.)
But I did know prejudice existed. Even within me. Like for example, Kevin Wilcox’s best friend was Elgin Clemmons. Elgin was probably the smartest boy in our class. Well spoken, articulate, funny…but he was black. Kevin had play dates with Elgin and I thought that was pretty radical and to be honest, I was a little jealous. I always thought it would be nice to have Jowanna over, but it seemed kind of weird for her to ride my bus. (Please note, my parents would have welcomed Jowanna into our home, I just never asked.)
But in some ways, I felt different than others. I used to feel awful that a boy named Victor got laughed at for the way he smelled. He was living with his grandmother and I wondered if he had a mom and a dad like I did if he’d smell better.
And to this day, I’ve never watched the epic “Roots”. I tried watching pieces of it, but when those slave owners took out the whip, it was more than I could handle. It was such an ugly piece of history and one I didn’t want to have images of in my mind.
And so, for me, I could not help but be moved when I saw Barack Obama inaugurated as President of the United States. Because it was historic. As he said, it’s a great country that “a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant, can stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
And I think that’s cool. It’s cool for people like Elgin and Jowanna and Victor. It’s cool for the young people he has inspired. It’s cool that in a country where more young blacks are in prison than in college, there is now a new role model. I think it’s cool too that now it is the black man that the phrase “yes sir” is spoken to in the White House. Not necessarily by whom it is spoken.
Being moved by history does not make me a liberal.
But it does make me an American.
And of that, I am very proud.
My friend Sharon’s daughter recently had to interview someone on what it was like to live through the Civil Rights Movement. She chose my mom. My mom shared how she remembered the blacks having to walk past her school to go to their own and how they were made to sit in the balcony of the movie theater and on the back of the bus. And Andrea wrote this…“civil rights have come a long way in America. We no longer require Afro-Americans to sit on the back of the bus or in the balcony of a theater. Blacks vote, play sports, own businesses and now even hold the highest office in the land.”
And to that I say, “welcome home Mr. President.”
And so, to Caroline, Brittany, Savannah and Jacob…this is how his Inauguration speech ended…
“Let it be said by our childrens’ children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth the great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”
The future is yours.